CLEVELAND, Ohio – Two Cuyahoga County, Ohio judges handed out very different sentences last week to women who stole public money. A white woman was given two years probation after stealing nearly $250,000 from the village of Chagrin Falls, while a Black woman who stole $40,000 from Maple Heights City Schools was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Debbie Bosworth, 53, faced up to 60 years in prison but was sentenced to just two years probation by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Hollie Gallagher after she pleaded no contest to 22 counts of theft in office, tampering with records and money laundering.
Gallagher said she didn’t think Bosworth deserved to go to prison because she made good on her promise to repay more than $300,000 before Monday’s hearing. Bosworth wrote a check for $100,000 and agreed to forfeit more than $200,000 of her public employee pension to the village.The $300,000 will cover her theft and the cost of the forensic audit the village conducted after discovering the missing money.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said he “respectfully disagreed” with the judges decision not to send Bosworth to prison. O’Malley issued a statement saying he found the sentence to be “unacceptable in that he believes public employees who steal from taxpayers should go to prison.”
The very next day, in the same courthouse, another woman charged with a similar but significantly less harsh crime was sentenced to prison. Former secretary of Maple Heights Highschool, Karla Hopkins, 51, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing $40,000 of the school’s money.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Rick Bell gave Hopkins a much harsher sentence than Bosworth even though Bosworth was charged with 22 counts of theft in office and Hopkins was only charged with one count of the same charge.
Hopkins’ attorney, Bret Jordan, told Judge Bell that his client had no prior criminal history and had been struggling with mental health issues and a gambling addiction when she stole the money. After her arrest, she completed an eight-week inpatient treatment program for her gambling addiction. She also gave $5,000 to begin repaying the money and promised to repay the full amount she stole.
Jordan also informed the judge that Hopkins had found a new job and if she was sentenced to prison it would be harder for her to pay the district back because she would lose her job and have a more challenging time finding work after she was released from prison.
Instead of showing leniency, Judge Bell scolded Hopkins for taking her pension money, and sentenced her to 18 months in prison – six months more than the prosecutor requested.
After the sentences, Cleveland activists immediately expressed their disapproval and pointed out the disparities between the two sentences. The white woman committed more crimes, over a longer period of time. She stole almost six times more money than the Black woman and she had 21 more charges. She was facing up to 60 years in prison while the Black woman’s maximum sentence was three years. Yet, the Black woman received a year and a half in prison and the white woman was able to go home.
“I think it reinforces the lack of trust in the justice system,” said Danielle Sydnor, president of Cleveland’s NAACP chapter. “These types of things are the way the system was designed, and they will continue to happen if we don’t have large-scale reform.”