AUSTIN, Texas - Sentencing is set for Nov. 21 for Merle Wilkins, former pension officer for the Austin Employees Retirement Ssytem.
Ms. Wilkins faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for money laundering and 30 years for bank fraud. Also, the court generally orders restitution, said Sharon Pierce, assistant U.S. attorney working on the case.
Last month, Ms. Wilkins pleaded guilty to one count each of money laundering and bank fraud.
Judge Sam Sparks of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, will determine the amount Ms. Wilkins will have to pay the fund. Court records say the amount she took was between $140,000 and $350,000.
Tom Eaton, chairman of the board of the $970 million fund, expects to move forward with a civil suit after the sentencing. The fund will demand full restitution and the payment of $37,000 for expenses incurred during the investigation, he said. The suit was filed before the criminal charges, but has been delayed because bank records are in the hands of the U.S. attorney's office, he added.
According to court documents, Ms. Wilkins electronically transferred assets from the pension fund's account at Texas Commerce Bank to her own checking account using a fake Social Security number. Court documents state she obtained funds "by means of false pretenses and representations" from about January 1993 through March 1997.
Fund officials had suspicions of wrong-doing after completing an audit following Ms. Wilkins' departure in March.
She left the Austin fund to become administrator at the Charlotte, N.C., Firefighters' Retirement System. She left that city's fund in June. "In her departure, she cited her problems back in Texas and her desire not to involve the Charlotte, N.C., Firefighters' Retirement System in those problems," said Kurt Hollar, chairman of the Charlotte board.
Mr. Hollar said the fund conducted an audit following Ms. Wilkins' departure and found no problems.
Currently, Ms. Wilkins is out on bond and will remain free until after the sentencing and the court determines at which prison she will serve her time.