Former county employee pleads guilty to theft

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter

Karol Tyrrell, 61, of Alexis pled guilty in Mercer County Court today of a Class 2 felony theft by a government official of more than $300 and less than $10,000. In a plea agreement with the state, Tyrrell will serve 110 days, with credit for two days served, 100 days stayed and the remaining eight days to be served in Mercer County Jail, starting Aug. 21, 2009. She also was ordered to pay restitution of $550 and a fine of $3,500 plus court costs. Tyrrell was also given a sentence of 36 months felony probation.

Tyrrell began being investigated, according to testimony of Mercer County Sheriff investigator Jeff Dale, on Jan. 20, 2009, when other Mercer County employees also were questioned about accounting practices and jobs being done by employees working with the Mercer County Clerk's office. Tyrrell was interviewed after other employees that day. "I interviewed Tom Hanson and other employees as to what their jobs were," said Dale. When he interviewed Tyrrell, she told him she had written personal checks to animal control and had taken cash. She believed that she had repaid the money she took the cash for," he said.

On Jan. 21, 2009, the Mercer County Clerk committed suicide. "On Jan. 26, Karol was asked for another meeting," he said. Tyrrell was read her Miranda rights on both Jan. 21, 22 and Jan. 26, according to Dale, and agreed to speak to Dale without counsel. He said he had discovered 10 checks written for cash. "She accepted responsibility to taking the money," said Dale.

How she did this was, she would write a personal check for the cash she took out and put it into the cash box. Later she removed the check after she returned the cash. There were three checks in question. "She believed she had put the money in there and neglected to take the checks out," said officer Dale.

At this point the Illinois State Police was called in to the investigation, who also questioned Tyrrell. Concurrent to this a forensic audit was ordered by the Mercer County Board of Supervisors. After the audit was completed by RMS McGladrey & Pullen of Peoria, the bottom line of $550 was able to be tracked as a theft from the animal control.

That audit cost the county around $88,000.

Dale said that Tyrrell was cooperative throughout the investigation. She said she had been doing this "check into cash" type of transaction for the past five years and did not think she was deliberately doing anything wrong.

Dale testified that Sarah Bohnsack, an assurance partner with McGladrey & Pullen who leads the firm's public sector industry team, told him the firm reviewed 2009 and 2008 transactions and went several years back. In 2008 the firm believed that $550 was missing from animal control - "$550 was all they could prove for the year 2008," said Dale.

Defense Attorney James Standard of Monmouth represented Tyrrell. He pointed out to Judge James G. Conway that not only was Tyrrell cooperative during the investigation, but some of the accounting may have been misrepresented. For instance. Dog registration fees are $15 per dog, but if a party registers from four to 10 dogs, only four dogs are charged. "You could not assume $15 taken for every dog," said Standard. He also pointed out that other individuals collected registration fees and there could have been some double counting of fees. "Two entities had fees waived," he said. "The Mercer County Nursing Home and the Drug Dog."

He said that Tyrrell also took a polygraph. "When asked if she manipulated funds to steal money from the county, she answered 'No.'" The polygraph showed she was telling the truth, he told the court.

She was also asked if she borrowed money, but didn't pay it back, and she answered, 'Yes,' which was shown by the polygraph to be the truth.

Tyrrell made a statement to the judge, before he imposed the sentence.

"I want to apologize to you, to the County Board, to my fellow employees, taxpayers, family and friends," she said. "I made a stupid mistake. I never intended to steal from the county. It was never done with malice or intent. I do want to issue an apology."

Judge Conway accepted the negotiated plea agreement. Her early acceptance of responsibility, the fact that she is unlikely to commit another crime were pointed out by the judge. "After all the notoriety a small amount of $550 was proven. The mitigation heavily outweighed the aggravating factors in the judge's mind. "Probation is the proper sentence," he said.