Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner sentenced former County Treasurer Brenda Grubbs to 20 years in prison with all but four suspended on December 13. The sentencing ends more than ten months of public embarrassment for Goochland’s government and citizens following revelations that Grubbs had her hand in the county till to the tune of about $180,000.
“This is a very sad day for Goochland,” Sanner said.
He said he could not imagine a more substantive breach of public trust than that caused by Grubb’s crimes. The oath she took as a constitutional officer is a serious thing and represents the trust of the people who elected her to office. “You failed them in the most miserable way you could,” Sanner told Grubbs.
In addition to the active incarceration, Grubbs will serve five year of supervised probation during which time she will have no access to the internet and was ordered to make restitution to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the balance of the amount she took, about $80,000.
Goochland County collected the amount of Grubbs’ theft from a state treasurer’s bond earlier this year, which is why she was ordered to repay the Commonwealth.
In his sentencing remarks, Sanner alluded to the victim impact statement, a sealed document, prepared on behalf of the county by Rebecca T. Dickson county administrator.
Grubbs’ actions, said Sanner, affected more people than just herself. They caused “real trauma to real people” including her chief deputy who Grubbs coerced into making wire transfers. That person, explained Sanner, was incorrectly suspected of being part of the embezzlement. She has resigned from her job in a bad economy.
Goochland government has been maligned about things that were Grubbs’ responsibility, said Sanner. County employees who pitched in to keep the treasurer’s office operating suffered scathing attacks from citizens outraged over Grubbs’ actions.
The amount Grubbs stole, said Sanner, could amount to three or four teacher or deputy positions, especially important in the current lean budget environment.
Sanner said that Grubbs apparently got to middle age and was dissatisfied with her life and troubled by health concerns and reacted in a very bad fashion by seeking comfort on an internet dating site. Many people face similar situations, said Sanner, but they do not resort to crime to assuage their misery.
As is typical of sentencing proceedings, various witnesses testified in open court as to the character of the accused and to offer an explanation of possible mitigating circumstances of the crime.
Grubbs sentencing was no exception. Her attorney James Maloney called psychiatrist Dr. James Selman to the stand. He said that Grubbs suffered from depression, which was improperly treated by medications that exacerbated rather than relieved her condition.
Maloney told the court that Grubbs suffered from chronic pain, headaches, diabetes and depression, which began to manifest itself around the end of 2008.
Selman said that Grubbs was mentally ill and on the wrong medication, which interfered with her ability to solve problems. When she first made contact with Bobby Johnson, characterized by Sanner as a “crazy Nigerian,” Grubbs core identity was vulnerable to an attack by someone who convinced her to take actions contrary to her core beliefs.
Yet, somehow she figured out how to get money out of county accounts and send it via wire transfer to Nigeria. That certainly took a bit of focus and ability to follow through on a complex task.
Maloney said that Johnson’s pleas for money, which Selman described as “mind control,” included a promise of repayment. He also pointed out that Grubbs exhausted personal and family funds of about $70,000 before she began to embezzle public funds to send to Johnson.
Selman said that once Grubbs was placed on appropriate medication and received counseling to address her self-esteem and gain insight into the issues of her complex childhood she will be able to function well.
Fluvanna Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip, acting as special prosecutor in the case, was skeptical of Selman’s characterization of Johnson as a master manipulator citing the clumsy language of the emails that allegedly ensnared Grubbs’ affections.
Grubbs’ husband Gerald, her son Jason and her pastor Tim Wilson of Perkins Baptist Church took the stand to testify about Brenda’s goodness and generosity.
Gerald Grubbs said that he forgives his wife for her actions, which included borrowing against their home without his knowledge. He also said that he had not read the email communications between his wife and Johnson.
An unsophisticated man, Gerald Grubbs clearly understands the “for better or for worse” clause in his marriage vows.
At the August hearing where Grubbs pleaded guilty to the embezzlement Haislip said that Grubbs “met” Johnson on an internet dating site on Valentine’s Day 2009.
Maloney said that the Grubbs raised $40,000 after selling most of their possessions except for the basic equipment needed to operate their 70 acre farm. Grubbs also turned over the cash value of her state pension, about $60,000 as restitution. No mention was made of Maloney’s fee, which was undoubtedly first in line for payment.
Maloney argued that because this was Grubbs’ first offense; that she is receiving medical treatment and has no access to public funds she should not have to serve active incarceration. He also pointed out that Grubbs readily confessed when confronted with her transgressions and pleaded guilty rather than force Goochland to incur the expense of a trial.
He also reiterated that Johnson fed on Grubbs’ vulnerability and craving for affection filling a “black hole of neediness” by calling her “wife” in the emails.
Haislip disagreed citing the magnitude of Grubbs’ offenses. Sanner concurred.
Sanner indicated that he believed that Grubbs’ crime was the result of her loving the mythical Bobby Johnson and giving him any money she could get her hands on. Even though Grubbs told those she inveigled into helping her that the money was being used to build a church in Africa, she was preparing to “chuck it all” for a new life with Johnson, Sanner contended.
The judge rejected a plea from Maloney to permit Grubbs to begin her sentence after the holidays citing Grubbs’ suicide attempt last summer when she took an overdose of oxycontin and emotional pitfalls of the season.
Grubbs was permitted to make a statement before pronouncement of sentence, but after getting out “I’m very sorry,” her words were drowned out by sobs.
The sound of handcuffs clicking around Grubbs’ wrists was clearly audible after the court session ended.