Zieler pleads guilty to embezzlement

Published 8:29 pm Monday, December 7, 2009

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Former Polk County Tax Office employee Jenny Zieler pled guilty yesterday to embezzling nearly $50,000 from the county government.
Zeilers guilty plea covered four felony counts of embezzlement by a local officer. Judge Laura Bridges sentenced Zieler to 13 to 16 months, but suspended that sentence with three years supervised probation. Zieler is also required to pay back $49,744 in restitution.
Zieler, a resident of 157 Hunters Trail in Tryon, was scheduled to pay $40,000 of that balance yesterday and the remaining balance will be paid back on a schedule determined by the probation office.
Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson earlier this year said he was pushing for jail time in this case to send a message that Polk County will not tolerate embezzlement of public money.
“I think the publics trust was violated,” he said yesterday following the sentencing, “and I feel thats a shame and we do not intend for it to happen again.”
Zieler, who was 42 when she was charged earlier this year, has not been an employee with Polk County since an “irregular transaction” was found in the tax office in 2006. A grand jury handed down true bills of indictment in March of this year. Zieler was then charged with the felonies and released on a $50,000 secured bond.
The county discovered the embezzlement in September, 2006, when then county manager Michael Talbert released a statement about the discovery, without naming Zieler at the time. Talbert said a tax office employee had altered tax records through abatements, allowing reductions of property tax owed with no documentation to back up the reductions. The transactions, later called “fraudulent,” were said to have taken place between 2003 and 2006.
This was the second conviction since 2002 by a tax office employee. Polk County has since installed new practices and security cameras to avoid any future embezzlements.
Other embezzlement incidents have taken place since 2000 in Polk County offices, including convictions involving the register of deeds office, the school system and the sheriffs office. All cases ended with guilty pleas and suspended sentences with probation and restitution.
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