Laurene L. Leuschel, 51, of St. Marys, was sentenced on Monday morning at the Elk County Courthouse in Ridgway by 59th Judicial District Judge Richard Masson for the charges of theft by unlawful taking, a grade three felony, and tampering with evidence, a grade one misdemeanor. Leuschel had previously pleaded guilty to the charges during the countyâ€™s monthly return day session on Friday, June 3. At that time, sentencing had been deferred so that a pre-sentence investigation report, including a forensic mental health evaluation conducted by Dr. David Webster, could be prepared.
At the time Leuschel entered her plea, District Attorney Brad Kraus had explained to the court that Leuschel was previously employed by the Office of Human Services Incorporated (OHS) in Ridgway and was allegedly responsible for stealing over $200,000 from various accounts handled by the organization. Kraus had also indicated at that time that Leuschel had been employed in the OHS's financial office and reportedly had used accounts there for her own benefit during a period between 2004 and 2009. The thefts were reportedly discovered after an internal audit was conducted.
For the charge of theft by unlawful taking, Leuschel was placed into the Intermediate Punishment Program for a period of seven years, with the first six months to be spent incarcerated at the Elk County Prison. Following the period of incarceration, she will serve a consecutive six-month period of house arrest. For the charge of tampering with evidence, she was placed into the Intermediate Punishment Program for a period of five years, to be served concurrent to the already imposed term. Upon release from incarceration, she must pay monthly $35 supervision fees; $250 for DNA testing and assessment; restitution in the amounts of $136,305.25, $53,311.86, and $65,767.71; and $353.75 for the cost of prosecution. No fine was imposed. As a special condition of her Intermediate Punishment, Leuschel must also continue with mental health treatment and comply with treatment recommendations.
Prior to sentencing, Leuschelâ€™s attorney, Tom Coppolo, addressed the court, remarking that his client hoped Masson would consider all of the evaluations and other information he had been provided when he determined her sentence. Coppolo further remarked that Leuschel is prescribed a variety of medications and sees a number of different doctors, and indicated that the hope was that the evaluations highlight why her charges may have occurred. He added that Leuschelâ€™s â€śbehavior leading up to [her guilty plea in June] was outside of her normal personality.â€ť While he suggested Leuschel â€śwas not herself during that period of time,â€ť he noted that her doctors have since worked to improve her health situation.
Coppolo also requested that Masson keep in mind during sentencing that Leuschel is not currently employed and her only current source of income is Social Security Disability. He asked that Masson consider imposing a sentence in the mitigated range, with house arrest as a replacement for incarceration so that Leuschel could continue with her medical treatment and continue taking her medications as prescribed. He added that house arrest would not jeopardize her Social Security.
Following Coppoloâ€™s remarks, Leuschel also briefly addressed the court. She indicated that she is â€śsincerely sorry for [her] actions,â€ť and takes â€śfull responsibility for this serious offense.â€ť She also remarked that there are still â€śevents and momentsâ€ť that she is unable to recall.
â€śI too am disappointed in my actions, because this is not the person I am,â€ť Leuschel said.
She added that she hopes to make amends.