To the Editor (Delaware County Daily Times):
Judge Michael Coll’s sentencing of Terri Phifer Vaugh, former Yeadon finance director, to prison from 12 to 24 months after being found guilty of charges of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and unlawful use of a computer was wrong, inappropriate and an abuse of discretion (“Ex-Yeadon official given prison sentence”, March 23rd). According to the article, Judge Coll justified the punishment because he found Ms. Vaughn insufficiently remorseful for misappropriation of $67,498 and because her misdeeds had cast a pall over the work environment for other borough workers.
From the beginning of this sordid affair, Ms. Vaughn has steadfastly and consistently denied all wrongdoing. That she was tried in a court of law, by a jury of her peers, and ultimately found guilty of some of the original charges does not mean that she should suddenly reverse course, admitting her guilt for a crime she didn’t commit and throwing herself on the mercy of Judge Coll, a judge not predisposed to staying within the parameters of the law. The judge, in pronouncing sentence, said: “What happened to this money? She took the cash, trashed the checks and used the money for her purposes.” Under even the most charitable interpretation, Judge Coll’s remarks manifestly exceed the specific charges for which Ms. Vaughn was found guilty, namely “failure to make required disposition of funds and lawful use of a computer.”
Under the circumstances, Ms. Vaughn comported herself about as well as anybody could reasonably expect. She acknowledged the pain of being charged, tried and found guilty of criminal acts; she once again declared her innocence; and she respectfully accepted the verdict of the jury, however flawed she believed it to be. Innocent defendants, as a rule, have nothing to be remorseful about.
But Judge Coll’s sentence is also objectionable because it not only is inconsistent with the specific acts, it also fails to fit the defendant. As demonstrated by pre-sentencing reports, Ms. Vaughn has been a law abiding citizen with no previous criminal record and no history of violent behavior. Being a first time offender who represents no threat to the community, the sentence of 12 to 24 months seems especially onerous. As State Rep. Ronald G. Waters, chairman, Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, noted in these pages on March 21st: “Why should we spend taxpayer dollars to incarcerate more nonviolent offenders when there are more and effective alternatives to help them? Each inmate costs the state an average of $33,000. Is this money well spent?”
As for the negative impact on other borough employees, this charge is not without irony given that the Yeadon city council essentially condoned and covered up former council member Terry McGirth’s sexual harassment of Ms. Vaughn and therefore the council fostered a hostile work environment. Mr. McGirth, a confessed embezzler of more than $100,000 from a kidney dialysis company and whose somewhat unconventional rehabilitation was a stint on Yeadon city council, ultimately pled guilt to the sexual harassment and resigned his seat. It is not difficult to see a connection between the zeal under which Ms. Vaughn has been prosecuted and the possible action for damages stemming from Mr. McGirth’s behavior and the Yeadon city council’s complicity therewith.
Monday, April 4, 2011
A Case for Leniency
This is the text of a letter to the editor concerning the case of Terri Phifer Vaughn, former Yeadon (Pa.) finance director, who was found guilty of theft and sentenced to prison. For purposes of disclosure, I am related to Terri through marriage.