By Deb Murphy
Dawndee Rossy has been sitting in Inyo County jail since August of last year, waiting to be sentenced on 91 counts, the primary charge embezzlement of $1.5 million during her tenure as a supervisor with the Inyo County Department of Health and Human Services. She’ll have to wait two more months – April 18th – for the decision from appointed Judge Phillip Argento.
Argento heard arguments from District Attorney Tom Hardy and defense attorney David Evans at Tuesday’s court session. He also referenced the Probation Report recommendation of 38 years in prison.
Hardy’s math differed from Probation on the charges he categorized as theft from taxpayers, identity theft and failure to pay taxes on the embezzled funds. After adding in enhancements, Hardy came up with 22 years and eight months, restitution on the $1.5 million and payment of back taxes.
As example of local comparative justice, Hardy offered up the nine month sentence levied against Sally Symons on charges of embezzling $10,000 from the Tri-County Fairgrounds, a six month sentence for embezzling $25,000 from the Fairgrounds by Rebecca Bragdon. Also in the mix: a two year sentence for Delores Marsh in the $322,000 Inyo Mono Auto Body embezzlement case
He described Rossy as a “serial thief” who executed a sophisticated scheme.
Evans challenged those premises, starting with a letter submitted to the court by H&HS Director Jean Turner, a letter the lawyer characterized as angry and exaggerating the impact. “She (Rossy) admitted she did bad things…. She stole some money over time,” he said. “That’s what she did.” He went on to point out the funds were state and federal monies, not County funds and the victims of identity theft suffered no negative impacts. “I’m not excusing what she did,” he said. “I’m just asking you to look at what she did.”
Evans questioned the sophistication of Rossy’s pattern of behavior. “The day after she was questioned, the DA’s investigator went to close up her office,” he said. “On top of her desk was all the evidence in this case. That’s not very sophisticated.”
In terms of comparative, or proportional, justice, he noted the median sentence for murder is 24 years 3 months. In addition to Hardy’s examples of local embezzlement cases, Evans brought up former Inyo Sheriff Don Dorsey. Dorsey wa, sentenced to five years’ probation, 120 days of community service and $1,600 in restitution in 1996 for embezzling $260,000.
Argento reminded the attorneys 12, 11 and eight year sentence offers were turned down by the defendant. Hardy mentioned the cost of the extended trial. Evans explained Rossy wanted to get a “handle on the amount of loss…. Is the sentence recommendation a punishment for exercising her right to a trial?”