The Minneapolis woman who erroneously received a $2.6 million check from the state entered a guilty plea Tuesday shortly before jury selection was to start in her trial.
Sabrina Walker pleaded guilty to failure to pay over state funds. Hennepin County prosecutors have agreed to ask for no more than a nine-month sentence and three years probation, although they could have asked for a year in jail, according to Walker's attorney Eric Olson and Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Emery Adoradio.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman also said they are working to make sure "every dollar is collected" and returned to the state.
In exchange for the plea, four other charges will be dropped, including theft by swindle, appropriating lost property, concealing criminal funds and theft of over $35,000. Walker's former boyfriend Charles Lockhart faced similar counts when the incident came to light last summer, but charges against him were dismissed in exchange for his cooperation.
If Walker had gone to trial and been convicted of all counts, she might have faced nearly two years in jail, Olson said. She entered the plea before Hennepin County District Judge Marilyn Rosenbaum. The judge and her staff declined to comment other than to confirm that a plea was entered.
A civil case by the state seeking to recoup the money is still pending against Walker. Freeman noted that a restitution order will be filed when Walker is sentenced. Sentencing is set for 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 10.
Out to 'get every dime back'
"We're working with the attorney general's office in every way we can" to "get every dime back," he said. Roughly $2 million was long ago frozen, he said, so Walker can't access it.
As of late Monday, Walker was set to go to trial. But Olson said he and his client had one last conversation before stepping onto the 19th-floor elevator to head home for the night. They returned to the judge's chambers to tell her they wanted to take a plea, Olson said.
"It's a hard thing to accept," Olson said. "After lengthy negotiations back and forth and realizing the trial was right around the corner, the best thing for her to do was plead."
He said his client has struggled since last spring, when a check from the Department of Human Services erroneously came to her in the mail.
"This is a woman who up until [that day] has lived the perfect life, did everything right, no criminal history. She gets a check in the mail and convinces herself this is one of those settlements out there," he said. "She made a bad decision and cashed the check."
She and Lockhart then went on a spending spree, buying several vintage and luxury automobiles, jewelry, retirement accounts and a U.S. Treasury bond worth $500,000. She also used $100,000 to pay off a student loan.
Olson said the case might have been tough at trial given the amount of the check. "The question was what were your obligations when you get a check like that," he said. A smaller amount might have been easier for jurors to stomach, he said.
Late in March 2007, the check intended for the Hennepin County Medical Center was sent to Walker when a state employee typed a single digit wrong. The typing was proofread, but the error escaped detection. Walker had a state vendor number because she was paid $84 in October 2006 as a witness who testified in Hennepin County District Court. The bigger check cleared the state treasury on April 4, 2007.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747