Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

November 14, 2012

Former law firm bookkeeper resentenced

ASHLAND —  A former law firm bookkeeper convicted of embezzlement in 2009 was resentenced Monday in federal court.

U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning made no changes to the length of Ronda Nixon’s original prison term — 54 months — but revised the judgment to omit one count on which Nixon was originally convicted that was later overturned on appeal.

In a ruling handed down in September, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld 16 of the 17 counts on which Nixon was convicted. However, the appeals court also agreed with Nixon’s attorney’s contention there was insufficient evidence to support her conviction for using an unauthorized access device — an American Express credit card. The court reversed her conviction on that count and ordered the case be remanded to U.S. District Court in Ashland for resentencing.

Nixon, 41, was convicted in February 2009 on 11 counts of wire fraud, two counts of counts bank fraud, three counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of use of an unauthorized access device. Nixon stole $93,477 from the Catlettsburg law firm of Pruitt & Thorner.

In a sentencing memorandum filed on Nixon’s behalf, attorney Michael Fox of Olive Hill said his client requested her sentence be reduced to time served, or, in the alternative, that her sentence not be reduced at all. The reason for the latter, Fox wrote, is that Nixon is scheduled to be transferred from the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va., to a halfway house in March “and any alteration of her sentence will almost certainly prevent her transfer as scheduled.”

Fox also attached 73 certificates of completion or accomplishment earned by Nixon during her time at Alderson, along with a letter from Nixon’s family requesting she be released so she could be reunited with her teenage daughter.

“Ronda has clearly made the most of her period of incarceration and separation from her family,” Fox wrote. “In fact, she readily states that her incarceration was ‘the best thing that could have happened’ to her and that it ‘saved my (her) life.’”

Fox also noted the single count reversed on appeal carried “no legal characteristics” that would have enhanced Nixon’s sentence beyond what it would have been had she not been convicted on that count.

According to the government, Nixon had access to Pruitt & Thorner’s bank accounts and to the identifying information of her boss, Garis L. Pruitt, the firm’s senior partner.

In October 2006, at Pruitt’s direction, Nixon obtained an American Express credit card for the firm that was to have been used to make business purchases for the firm. However, according to trial testimony, Nixon used the card to make numerous personal purchases between October 2006 and July 2007, without permission from Pruitt.

To pay the credit card bills, Nixon would withdraw money from the firm’s bank accounts. To replace the money in those accounts, she opened an American Express Bank line of credit, using Pruitt’s name and Social Security number, and forging his signature to obtain funds from the account.

Nixon withdrew $19,500 from the American Express account to cover up the credit card charges, according to federal prosecutors.

In addition to paying off a $10,600 student loan, Nixon used the law firm’s credit card to purchase airline tickets to Las Vegas, cosmetics from May Kay, Victoria’s Secret clothing and massages.

In appealing her conviction, Nixon maintained her conviction for using an unauthorized access device was improper because Pruitt had authorized her to obtain the American Express card and the government had not presented any evidence at trial she intended at the time she obtained it to use it to defraud the firm.

According to the appeals court’s 22-page ruling, the government conceded it had failed to prove the card was an unauthorized access device, which is defined by law as “any access device that is lost, stolen, expired, revoked, canceled or obtained with intent to defraud.”

Nixon’s projected release date is August, according to the Bureau of Prisons’ online inmate locater. She will then have to serve a five-year term of supervised release.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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