Nancy J. Hester, 58, former clerk for the Village of Belknap, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to a Class 2 Felony Theft of more than $25,000.00 from the Village she clerked for between 2010 and 2013.
Hester faces three to seven years or probation with sentencing set for Oct. 15, 2013.
“The board is glad to get the guilty plea and will be glad to get this over with,” Belknap mayor Janet Hester said. The mayor, who is not related to Nancy Hester, said the people of Belknap are no longer discussing the case much and most are just looking move on.
“The village is doing all right; we are saddened that a few projects to improve the town have been put on hold,” mayor Hester said. “It is just so sad that someone could steal from the town, which is actually stealing from every person that lives here. It was their money.”
Hester said she and other members of the Belknap Village Board are aggravated by the clear systematic theft of general funds saying Ms. Hester knew exactly what she was doing when she wiped out more than 60-percent of Belknap’s savings.
“Probation alone is not enough for what she did,” Hester said. “Previous mayors, myself and board members have worked for years to find ways of saving the town money even if that meant doing the work ourselves. We’ll never see that money again.”
Belknap discovered several discrepancies in their financial statements in March, which led to the investigation that resulted in discovering an estimated loss of $26,000.00. Johnson County sheriff Elry Faulkner turned the investigation over to Illinois State Police shortly after it was reported due to the case involving a Johnson County governmental body. Special prosecutor Melissa Presser was appointed to the case due to a conflict after Johnson County State’s Attorney Tambra K. Cain initially filed it.
Ms. Hester will be ordered to repay the Village of Belknap and is likely to receive the lower end of sentencing limits due to this being her first offense. Hester was originally charged with a Class 1 Felony Theft, but saw that charge reduced by the special prosecutor in exchange for her guilty plea.
Mayor Hester said the people of Belknap would continue to watch the case as the Village seeks justice, which she said should realistically include jail time.
“We don’t take this lightly,” Hester said, adding that the town would eventually recover but the theft has left a hole in their budget where work on such projects as the Belknap Senior Citizen building is put on hold.
“We want the town to know that we are fighting for, and hoping for, justice,” Hester said, adding that if Ms. Hester were to receive probation alone that it would be a “slap in the face” to the residents of Belknap. “Restitution is such a small price to pay for the burden that this has put on us.”