Melissa Lantz, the former business manager for the Woodward-Granger Community School District, was sentenced to three years probation during a hearing on Friday, Jan. 18.
Judge Randy Hefner sentenced Lantz to 10 years in prison before suspending that sentence. She will have to serve three years of probation and complete 250 hours of community service.
Lantz was arrested on Aug. 28 and charged with first degree theft. The charge stemmed from an investigation into a string of suspicious financial transactions at the Woodward-Granger Community School District.
That investigation revealed that Lantz was the sole person responsible for $221,851.27 in improper payroll disbursements.
Lantz entered a guilty plea on Nov. 16, 2018 to the first degree theft charge, a Class C felony.
Assistant County Attorney Wayne Reisetter read a victim impact statement from the Woodward-Granger School Board during the Jan. 18 sentencing hearing. The statement said the actions taken by Lantz led to a “breach of trust” between her and the community of Woodward. As well as the entire Woodward-Granger Community School District.
On top of that, the board said that every dollar counts when it comes to educating students. The improper payroll disbursements made by Lantz led to employee and program cuts.
“The financial impact will be felt for years to come,” the statement read.
As the victim statement indicated, Reisetter said, this was a case of continued deceit in which Lantz showed “callous disregard for the victim.”
Reisetter asked the court to not consider a deferred judgement, where the charge is expunged from the record. If a deferred judgement was reached, he added, it would “signal to others there’s no risk.”
The State’s recommendation was for the court to enter a sentence of confinement not to exceed 10 years. That sentence, Reisetter added, would send wa clear message to the community that this was a serious crime with a serious judgement.
“In simple terms, (she was) stealing from children,” Reisetter said, while being employed by the school district.
Lantz’s lawyer, Todd Lantz, argued that the defendant is 35 years old, is married and has young children. She also has no criminal history.
Around 20 family and friends submitted letters in support of Lantz. The letters, he said, depicted Lantz as a “devoted, loving mother” who was active in the Woodward-Granger community.
“(Lantz) struggled with personal finances,” Todd Lantz said. That struggle, he added, led to the “regrettable decision” that brought her to the courtroom on Jan. 18.
Todd Lantz said the defendant admitted that she gave herself extra payroll checks that continued until her resignation.
“She fully admitted she was wrong,” Todd Lantz said, adding that her actions were “completely out of character.”
As she has accepted responsibility and apologized for her actions, along with her lack of criminal history, Todd Lantz recommended a deferred judgement.
He added that the best way for Lantz to be rehabilitated is to continue working so she can repay the debt. She is currently employed and has continued to volunteer within the community.
“(Melissa) Lantz is a good person who made a terrible decision,” Todd Lantz said.
Hefner then asked Todd Lantz how long the defendant issued payroll checks to herself. Todd Lantz said she pled guilty to issuing 101 checks from Oct. 8, 2015 to the first week in August of 2017.
Lantz apologized for her actions during a statement she read in open court.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t regret my decision,” she said.
Lantz added that she takes full responsibility for her actions. She intends to work hard every day to regain the trust of the community, while also giving back through volunteer work.
“I’m not sorry that I was caught. I’m very sorry for ever doing it,” Lantz said. “I hope in time that people can forgive me. And acknowledge that good people can make terrible decisions.”
Hefner said he weighed Lantz’s age, family situation, lack of prior criminal history and current employment when determining her sentence.
Though he agreed with Reisetter that Lantz “took money out of the pockets of the teachers and students” for her own personal gain.
Hefner added that the money should have instead been used to educate the district’s students.
He also agreed with Todd Lantz, who pointed out that the defendant didn’t get away with her crime.
“I’m sure it was very embarrassing having to explain to three young children why you stole money from the district,” Hefner said, referencing Lantz’s statement.
He added that because Lantz has taken full responsibility for her actions, he did not consider incarceration to be the necessary sentence.
Hefner sentenced Lantz to a prison sentence not to exceed 10 years. He then suspended that sentence and placed her on three years of probation. She will also have to pay restitution to the victim, in addition to various fines and court costs.