CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a former Guernsey town treasurer to two years in prison for failing to pay taxes on money she has admitted to embezzling from the town.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson ordered U.S. Marshals to take Leslie Diane Zynda, 39, into custody immediately after the sentencing hearing in Cheyenne.
Johnson ordered Zynda to repay Guernsey more than $276,000. He also ordered her to pay the IRS more than $75,000 in unpaid taxes on the embezzled money.
Prosecutors said the embezzlement started in 2005 and stopped after current Guernsey Mayor Edward Delgado was elected in 2010 and started scrutinizing the books.
Delgado told Johnson that the community of Guernsey is made up mostly of low-income people and senior citizens.
"The trust in our city government is gone," Delgado said. He said when he took office that the town's water, electrical and sewer departments were having trouble finding money to buy necessary tools.
Speaking after the hearing, Delgado said he started looking into the city deposits after he took office. He said it soon became apparent that Zynda, who served as both town treasurer and clerk, wasn't depositing all the money collected by the town's utility department. He said he alerted the town's attorney, Ed Buchanan.
The town's operating budget is between $3.5 million to $4 million, Delgado said.
Johnson said the state of Wyoming had agreed not to prosecute Zynda on any embezzlement charge because it was aware that she was facing the federal tax-evasion charge.
Defense lawyer David Weiss emphasized that he appreciated the serious harm Zynda's actions had inflicted on the town.
"I understand the betrayal and pain you're feeling and the pain that's been done to your town," Weiss said. He said Zynda herself was shocked when she learned the total amount she had taken from the town over the years.
"She never set out to harm the town of Guernsey," Weiss said.
Weiss suggested that Johnson allow Zynda to stay out of prison and stay employed by serving only jail time on weekends.
Johnson said he had received a letter written by the proprietor of a lawn care business in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Zynda has been living lately, saying that she's been a good employee.
Zynda told Johnson she was sorry for her actions. "I hurt a community that is a great community," she said.
Zynda told Johnson that she was driven to take the money by personal circumstances including her husband becoming ill. "I was acting as the main person of the family, trying to hold everything together," she said.
Zynda said she used the money on personal expenses as well as to help other family members.
Prosecutor Lisa Leschuck urged Johnson to give Zynda prison time. "Because you have personal crises, you don't steal your employer's money," she said.
Leschuck urged Johnson to promote respect for the law by imposing a sentence of 18 to 24 months.
In pronouncing the sentence, Johnson said he was troubled by the sustained criminal intent Zynda had shown by maintaining the embezzlement and covering her tracks for years. He said most people couldn't live with the years of worry and shame that their crime would be discovered.
"It would absolutely drive you crazy," Johnson said.