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Deborah Shifflett, widow of the late Jeffrey Shifflett, won’t be spending any time in jail, providing she maintains good behavior and pays $7,500 in restitution to the Hardy Volunteer Fire Department.
Earlier this year, Shifflett pleaded no contest to seven misdemeanor charges of interference with property rights. She had originally faced 13 felony embezzlement charges.
Prosecutors say that her husband, Hardy’s fire chief for two decades, embezzled $150,000 from the fire department. Jeffrey Shifflett, however, never had his day in court. He committed suicide shortly after being indicted on the embezzlement charges in July, 2009. Deborah Shifflett’s charges stemmed from her use of fire department credit and debit cards for personal use.
On the witness stand, Deborah Shifflett painted a picture of a husband who maintained absolute control of their finances, keeping them secret from her. She testified that, when she made credit card purchases, her husband would hand her the card and she would use it without paying attention to what the card was.
“When I looked at the card, I looked at the color,” she testified under cross examination.
Most of the charges were on a Shell fleet credit card issued to the fire department. Shifflett testified that 99 percent of the time, she did not pump her own gas. Her husband did that.
She said that she never questioned him about the family finances and that he had a “man cave” that he kept locked. She said that she did not have a key to this room.
“I trusted my husband with everything,” she said. “My husband was a pillar of the community.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz tried to call into question the credibility of Shifflett’s testimony. He noted that she owned a business in Vinton.
“Did you run your own business that way?” he asked.
“I kept my business records because I was the one paying the bills,” she replied.
Shifflett maintained her story that she did not realize that she was using a fire department credit card for personal purchases, or had any idea of her husband’s embezzlement.
“I had no reason to doubt my husband,” she said. “I did not know my husband was doing this until March 23 . I didn’t know I needed to know.”
Krantz maintained throughout the hearing that Shifflett had been willfully blind to what was going on.
“I had no reason not to trust my husband,” she stated.
Shifflett, in her testimony, said she turned over her paycheck from a job she had as well as child support checks that she received. She also turned over a $90,000 insurance settlement she received after an automobile accident. Shifflett’s defense attorney, Webster Hogeland, pointed to this, adding that she only discovered later that Jeffrey Shifflett was “a thief and a liar.”
“This was a guy who was universally respected,” Hogeland said. “She wasn’t the only one who trusted him completely.”
Each of the seven charges carried a maximum of 12 months in jail. Judge James Updike sentenced Shifflett to seven years in prison, with all seven years suspended.
“What a judge wants to do, in accord with the laws and evidence, is to punish what he believes was done,” Judge Updike said.
Judge Updike said that Shifflett conceded that she and the family benefited from the money stolen.
“What is critical here is her degree of knowledge at the time the benefit was received,” he said. “She has testified that she didn’t know. She testified in a credible fashion.”
Judge Updike said that Jeffrey Shifflett stole a lot of money over a long period of time. This indicated, he said, that Jeffrey Shifflett was skillful at concealing actions and could have concealed them from his wife as well.
“I found her testimony credible,” he concluded.