By Daniel Silliman
The woman who almost destroyed Bill Bledsoe's business is in jail, but he doesn't feel relieved. He feels disappointed.
Lisa Shane Pounds, the accountant who kept the books at Penco Electrical Contractors, Inc., for six years, pled guilty to 65 counts of theft by taking. But, for Bledsoe, it's a symbolic victory that really doesn't help him at all.
"I'm disappointed that she's not being charged with everything that she's done," he said, Friday afternoon. "This lady took over $400,000 from this company. I don't think we're going to get any money back. It might be in a coffee can somewhere. I don't see how she could have spent it all."
Pounds' restitution has not yet been ordered by a judge. She pled guilty on July 23, and was sentenced to three years work release, decades of probation and a restitution "to be determined." A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21.
Pounds' attorney has filed paperwork to argue she didn't steal as much as alleged, but Bledsoe believes the 65 charges only start to account for her embezzlement.
"We can prove she took the $400,000. What we don't know is how much more she took," he said.
Penco does commercial electrical work, employing about 160 people. Since 2002, it's been located on Citizens Parkway, outside of Morrow. Two years after the company moved there, an audit turned up a financial discrepancy. According to Pounds' books, Penco was making $25,000 profit for the year -- "which wasn't very good" -- but other documents showed a $140,000 loss.
Bledsoe said he cut top salaries and struggled through the year, but then in 2005, the Internal Revenue Service contacted him about back taxes, which Pounds' accounts showed as paid.
A forensic audit revealed the depth of the embezzlement. Pounds was paying herself double her salary. She was paying an employee for hours he didn't work. She was giving an ex-employee money he wasn't owed. She said she had shredded and lost old records.
"It has changed my outlook on people," he said. "I don't trust anybody any more."
He reported her to the Clayton County Police in 2005. After a few months, on New Year's Eve, she was arrested. Then, in a development that still frustrates Bledsoe, nothing happened. The case was sent to the district attorney's office and wasn't brought up for indictment for more than two years.
Bledsoe has two file folders on the Pounds case, and his handwritten notes track the progress of the investigation. In 2007, he said, he called the district attorney's office at least 15 times, asking about progress, and the investigator never returned his call.
"Why hadn't she been indicted? Why hadn't she been brought to trial? I couldn't get anything," he said.
During that same time, a Clayton News Daily special report found there were more than 200 pending, unindicted cases, first brought to the office in 2005 and apparently left permanently pending. There were cases that had been there, waiting to be presented to a grand jury, for as long as seven years.
Bledsoe said he didn't know if the investigator was overworked or what the problem was, but it seemed no one cared about his case. "I feel like if I hadn't of kept calling, this case would have just been set to the side," he said.
Jewel Scott, the Clayton County District Attorney, said the number of backed-up cases was caused by a sharp increase in crime rates, which hasn't been met by additional funding or staff.
Bledsoe said he only got a response to his questions when he went to Scott's chief assistant district attorney, Todd Naugle. It was Naugle, according to Bledsoe, who actually did the investigative work and brought the case to a grand jury for indictment.
Pounds was indicted in February 2008, six years after the first crime was committed.
The time delay forced some allegations to get dropped, due to the statute of limitations. Others allegations were also dropped, with prosecutors focusing on stronger charges.
Pounds was charged with only about $80,000 worth of thefts. She pled guilty.
The accountant accepted a negotiated sentence of three years work release. The hearing on July 23 wasn't supposed to be a plea hearing -- Pounds accepted unexpectedly -- so Bledsoe didn't even know it happened until later, and he was left feeling like he had lost again.
"She really brought us to our knees," he said. "She's skating with three years. Is that it? Is that all?"