Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

October 17, 2012

Former firm bookkeeper to be resentenced

ASHLAND — A former law firm bookkeeper convicted of embezzlement in 2009 will be resentenced in federal court next month after winning part of her appeal.

In a ruling handed down last month, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati upheld 16 of the 17 counts on which Ronda 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.

Judge David L. Bunning scheduled Nixon’s resentencing for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 13.

Nixon, 41, was sentenced to 54 months in prison after  a jury convicted her 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.

According to the government, Nixon had access to the firm’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 is serving her sentence at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va. Her current projected release date is August, according to the Bureau of Prisons’ online inmate locater.

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

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