Watson enters guilty plea

Published 3:03 pm Friday, April 20, 2012

Monica Lynn Watson, a former staff member of the Escambia County District Attorney’s office, pleaded guilty Monday in Escambia County Circuit Court to charges of forgery and ethics violations — just as her trial was set to begin.

Watson pleaded guilty to two counts of a six-count indictment handed down in September 2011 by an Escambia County Grand Jury.
The guilty plea was entered on the charge of intentional misuse of her public position for illegal personal gain through the mishandling of funds in the worthless check unit and second-degree forgery based on a motion that purported to be signed by the district attorney for the dismissal of a case against a defendant.
The Alabama Attorney General’s Public Corruption and White Collar Crime division prosecuted the case. Luther Strange, attorney general, said the case is one that will hold the defendant accountable for the crimes.
“This case involves extensive documentation from the Examiners of Public Accounts of misuse of funds totaling $10, 259,” Strange said. “It is important that this defendant has been held to account and will be punished for her crimes to betray the public trust and abuse government funds.”
Information concerning the case released from the attorney’ general office said charges against Watson arose from information in an audit of the Escambia County District Attorney’s Office conducted in 2008 by the Examiners of Public Accounts, covering the period of September 1, 2006, to May 31, 2008.
Discrepancies in funds of the Worthless Check Unit (WCU) led to further inquiries, which uncovered money orders that had been received by the District Attorney’s Office but not receipted in the WCU.  It was discovered that two money orders had been deposited into Watson’s credit union account. Furthermore, there was no record in WCU records for certain people who had paid cash to and had handwritten receipts from Watson, but the receipts were logged in under someone else’s name. The Examiners’ audit also cites Watson for filing motions to dismiss cases saying that those defendants had paid all money they owed when they had not, and that the motions were stamped with the District Attorney’s name. According to the audit, $10, 259 was stolen from the WCU, which Watson initially refused but later repaid.
The plea entered by Watson on Monday was a blind plea, which means there is no agreement for prosecutors to recommend a particular sentence or for any reduction in penalties.
Watson could is facing two to 20 years in prison for the ethics violation and one to 10 years for the second-degree forgery charge.
The court has ordered a pre-sentence report and a hearing on Watson’s sentence and probation is set for May 8.
Strange commended those who handled this case, noting in particular Assistant Attorneys General Bill Lisenby and Stephanie Billingslea and Paralegal Lori Arnold of his Public Corruption and White Collar Crime Division, and Special Agents of the Attorney General’s Investigations Division. Strnge tthanked the Examiners of Public Accounts and the Escambia County District Attorney’s Office for valuable assistance.