Former Linn County financial worker Brandi Aston, who embezzled nearly $6,000 from the county, was sentenced on Tuesday to 30 days in jail and 18 months of supervised probation.
Perhaps worse than the dollar amount of the theft was the abuse of the public’s trust, said Todd Noble, Linn County health administrator, during Aston’s sentencing hearing in Linn County Circuit Court.
“Never in the history of Linn County have we experienced an event like this. … Mrs. Aston injured the county’s longstanding reputation of integrity and service,” Noble told Judge Thomas McHill.
“Although the ship has been righted, it will take years to repair Linn County’s standing as a result of Mrs. Aston’s actions,” he added.
In May, Aston pleaded no contest to charges of first-degree theft, identity theft and first-degree official misconduct.
The crimes occurred between May 2016 and March 2018, when Aston was the financial services manager for the Linn County mental health department, said prosecutor Douglas Prince.
As part of the negotiated settlement, another count of first-degree theft and two charges of second-degree theft were dismissed. Aston, who has medical issues and no prior criminal history, will be eligible for alternative programs during her sentence, rather than simply jail time.
The Brownsville resident had been employed by the county for about five years, but was fired in 2018. She was arrested in June 2018.
Aston used a county credit card to buy remodeling supplies for her house, items for her husband’s office, food on a vacation and more, Prince said.
She tried to conceal many of her purchases via paperwork, he added. A swimming pool liner was disguised as office furniture. A designer bag was passed off as a laptop bag.
When initially confronted about spending discrepancies, Aston denied that she would jeopardize her career in such a manner, Prince said.
“I do believe Mrs. Aston thought nobody would find out,” he said.
During the course of the criminal investigation, Linn County found a long list of misconduct by Aston, Noble said.
Aston addressed the court and told McHill that she had pushed her family to the brink. “I want you to know this is not my character. … I am truly regretful and sorry,” Aston said.
“This was an act of resentment and hatred because I was dealing with things that were horrifying and I wasn’t feeling supported,” she added.
David Hill, Aston's defense attorney, said that Aston didn't get along with some co-workers, but was a very good employee.
Before handing down Aston’s sentence, McHill noted the palpable frustration and disappointment Noble was experiencing.
“That public trust is really never going to come back as shiny as before,” McHill said.
Aston has until the end of the week to pay $5,800 in restitution, and McHill allowed her to report to the Linn County Jail at noon on Wednesday to give her enough time to handle her financial obligation.
“If for some reason you don’t show up at noon tomorrow, we’re going to have a different discussion,” McHill said.
“That’s not going to be an issue,” Aston responded.
After the hearing, Noble said that he was satisfied by McHill’s sentencing decision. “Hopefully we can move past this and this will be a blip on our history,” he said.