A Class 4 felony, the theft charge carries a maximum six-year prison sentence, a maximum $500,000 fine and up to three years of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Aug. 8.
Content retrieved from: http://www.cortezjournal.com/article/20130624/News05/130629939/Plea-agreement-reached–in-dental-office-embezzlement
“This case has literally brought me to my knees,” she read in her closing statements to Judge Walker. “I have hit rock bottom, but I want to climb back up.”
Content retrieved from: http://www.cortezjournal.com/article/20130822/NEWS01/130829950/Hernandez-sentenced-to-90-days
Kemper hires felon to instruct children
Last fall, Jessica Hernandez was serving a 90-day jail sentence for theft. Today, she’s helping to shape young minds as a paraprofessional at Kemper Elementary.
Facing a maximum six-year prison sentence, Hernandez was ordered in August 2013 to 90 days in the county jail, three years of probation, 200 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to the victim. She is on probation for two more years.
The 33-year-old mother of two pleaded guilty to felony theft after embezzling nearly $24,000 from a local dentist over a four-year span.
In August 2014, Hernandez was hired as a paraprofessional at Kemper Elementary School, where she earns $12,817 helping to provide instruction and support for classroom teachers. Her employment was rubber-stamped without discussion by the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school board on Aug. 19.
“In order to promote a respectful and trusting relationship with our employees, the district will never discuss any personal or private issues of our employees’ lives with the media,” said Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter.
School district responds
The Cortez Journal asked Carter, Kemper Elementary Principal Angela Gaylon and all seven members of the school board school to list concerns about Hernandez serving as a role model to students, her role as a paraprofessional, her qualifying credentials and the results of a background check, if conducted.
Carter was the only official to reply. Carter said Hernandez was deemed to be the “most qualified candidate” selected by a Kemper hiring team as a reading intervention paraprofessional.
“In this paraprofessional capacity, Mrs. Hernandez provides direct intervention services to 30 to 40 students per week to support their progress toward meeting their reading goals,” Carter wrote in an email.
“While Mrs. Hernandez’s service with the district is just beginning, her performance and attitude thus far have been exemplary,” Carter wrote. “She has already made a strong connection with the students and staff at Kemper Elementary.”
Carter said district paraprofessionals were not required to hold certifications or credentials. The only qualifications, he said, were a high school diploma and an ability to pass a state-approved test of basic literacy and math.
The embezzlement case
Court records show that Hernandez skimmed more than 100 customer payments from the dental clinic by entering patients’ cash payments as credit card transactions. The individual payments – many from the same customers – ranged from a low of $7 to a high of $2,063. In September 2011, records show, Hernandez embezzled 15 payments, nearly one every other day.
When imposing the sentence last year, Chief District Court Judge Walker said he was disappointed that Hernandez failed to address the harm to the actual victim. During her 20-minute address to the court, Hernandez repeatedly alluded to the devastation she caused to her family.
“You took advantage of your position of trust for pure greed,” Walker told Hernandez.
Her punishment and apology
In connection to her felony conviction, court records from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office mistakenly reported that Hernandez completed her 200 hours of community service at the Cortez Library in May. Montezuma County Undersheriff Lynda Carter confirmed that the community service hours instead were performed at Lewis Elementary. A school official verified that Hernandez completed 228 hours and 35 minutes of useful public service at the rural school north of Cortez,
Hernandez wrote an apology letter to Dr. Jason Smith at San Juan Dental last October.
“I wish with everything in me that I could take back my actions,” she wrote.
Contained in the letter, Hernandez apologized for her “dishonesty,” and admitted that her “selfish” acts caused Smith, his family and his business “hurt, pain and anger.”
“I hope with time you can forgive me,” Hernandez concluded.
Previous run-ins with law
District Attorney Will Furse argued for a two-year jail term at sentencing last year, saying that Hernandez initiated the embezzlement scheme while on probation for a similar offense. In the previous case, Hernandez agreed to repay $14,385 after falsifying an administrative license, Furse said.
“The fraud and theft evident in both cases reveals an ongoing pattern of felonious activity practiced with manipulative skill and frequency,” Furse said.
In 2008, the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies launched an investigation into Hernandez while she was working at The Valley Inn in Mancos. Court records reveal she was later charged with felony forgery of a government-issued document, possession of a forged instrument, criminal impersonation and misdemeanor unauthorized practice at a nursing home. In June 2009, Hernandez was granted a deferred adjudication and sentence on one felony count and granted probation on the misdemeanor charge. The remaining two felony charges were dismissed.
Carter said all district employees were subject to Colorado Bureau of Investigations criminal background checks, but he did not indicate the results of CBI’s report into Hernandez.
“Our primary responsibility to the community is to ensure the safety and welfare of our students and staff,” said Carter. “The district screens all candidates to eliminate any from consideration who have a history of violence or any indication that they are unfit to work with children.”
Carter also said, “The work we do at school offers an incredible opportunity for redemption through community service. There is no more honorable occupation than that of helping children improve their abilities to read, write, and do math.”
The Journal attempted contact Hernandez, also known as Jessica Lynn Tozer, for comment. A recorded message indicated her listed telephone number was no longer in service.