Ithaca, N.Y. — The prosecution and defense in the case of an Ithaca schools union president charged with grand larceny made their closing arguments in a jury trial at Tompkins County Court Thursday morning.
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Laureen Hamilton, 52, faces felony charges in allegations that she stole thousands of dollars from the Ithaca City School District’s Educational Support Professionals union.
Hamilton has been charged with grand larceny in the third degree, which is for thefts over $3,000 and less than $50,000.
Defense attorney James Hickey said Hamilton had made a few small, honest mistakes but could not be convicted for making expenses when there were no rules governing those expenses.
“She was only doing what she believed was right,” Hickey said.
“She didn’t steal the money and she never said she stole the money … For the period of time where she was named president and given (a debit) card she was not told so much as a single time that her expenditures were not proper.”
Hickey also strongly criticized an Ithaca police interview — video from which was played in the courtroom Wednesday — and said the jurors should give Hamilton credit for taking the stand and defending herself.
“My concern from the beginning of this case and right up through this minute is that police and prosecutorial cleverness will defeat the basic fundamental truth in this case — getting my client to say things, wearing her down, putting words in her mouth,” Hickey said at the beginning of his argument.
He closed on a similar note:
“Common sense, fairness, the law, justice — All call for the same verdict: Not guilty,” he said.
Tompkins County Assistant District Attorney Dan Johnson spoke next.
Johnson asked the jurors to imagine walking into a bank with its vault doors thrown wide open and piles of cash everywhere.
“Does someone have to tell you not to take the money?” Johnson said.
Johnson ticked through the expenditures — a computer, an air conditioner, food and gas — that he said were clearly wrong for Hamilton to have charged to the union. Johnson said the police video showed that the senior investigator simply asked Hamilton questions she voluntarily answered.
“This was not some horrible interrogation where he forced her to say things she didn’t want to say,” he said of the police interview.
Johnson displayed an illustration of Hamilton’s “clearly” wrong expenses: $2,480 for ATM withdrawals; $1,898 for her home Internet bill; and $502 for her GEICO car insurance. (They add up to $4,880.)
“She admitted it was unauthorized,” Johnson said. “…She just kept spending and spending and spending.”
It strains credulity that Johnson could accidentally make several withdrawals with the same debit card.
“How do you inadvertently use the wrong debit card to make withdrawals twice a day?,” he said.
The ADA produced other records he said demonstrated that Hamilton’s actions were criminal. ATM withdrawals, car insurance, a phone card for her son — none of these expenses fit the union’s mission, he said.
“With somebody else’s money you have to be a little more careful than, ‘Whoops, I slipped and bought someone else a phone card,’” he said.
“…When you’re holding someone else’s money, you can’t spend it like it’s your money. Because it’s not.”