Thief Pays More Than $82K In Restitution

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An Athens woman who was charged with stealing more than $82,000 from the University Commons apartment complex has paid restitution and pleaded guilty a charge of grand theft.

Grace Maxine Young, 68, pleaded guilty Wednesday but her plea is being held in abeyance pending successful completion of the Athens County Prosecutor's Office's diversion program. Young is accused of stealing $82,652,50 from the complex, money that came from rental fees.

The money was stolen over the course of six years, according to previous reporting by the Messenger. Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said more theft was alleged to have taken place, but could not be prosecuted.

"Some of the theft was outside the statute of limitations, but (Young) wrote a check and paid her restitution (Wednesday)," Blackburn said. "Getting the restitution paid was a big part of getting her into the diversion program."

Young was indicted by an Athens County grand jury on Aug. 12 for theft that occurred between May 2005 and April 2011. Blackburn alleges additional thefts took place for another three years prior.

The theft was uncovered after Young had left her employment with the complex on South Shafer Street. Her replacement found the discrepancies and reported them.

A two-year investigation by the Athens Police Department took place before an indictment could be brought against Young.

"It was a circumstantial case," Blackburn said. "Money taken over a nine-year span, it's tough to prove where the money went."

The plea bargain Young agreed to includes 24 hours of community service, an order to have no contact with University Commons and the permanent forfeiture of Young's real estate license, Blackburn said. Young must complete two years in the diversion program in order for her resolve her guilty plea.

Blackburn clarified that the money stolen did not affect renters.

"Everyone who paid their bills got credit for that," he said. "No citizen on the street got double-billed because of this."

House Bill 86, which changed the sentencing guidelines in many different types of cases, affected this one as well. Before the legislation, the maximum penalty for Young's grand theft would have been 18 months in prison, whereas now she faced a maximum of five years of community control. Prison is still possible however, if she violates community control.

"If she messes up on community control, she could still be sentenced to that 18 months in prison, but because of the changes, we're (the prosecution and defense are) arguing over community control versus judicial release," Blackburn said. "It takes away some of the ability to negotiate."