FRANKLINTON—A Washington Parish jury found Capriece Dawson, 43, a former Franklinton town clerk, guilty of theft over $1,500 and malfeasance in office Thursday (Feb. 4) for stealing money that resulted in losses of more than $115,000 to the town. Dawson faces up to 10 years in prison on the theft charge and up to five years on the malfeasance charge when District Judge Richard Swartz sentences her March 3.
The jury deliberated about 1½ hours Thursday before returning the guilty verdicts. During the trial, which began Monday, jurors heard from another former clerk, Carmen Freeman, who pled guilty in August last year to theft over $1,500, malfeasance, conspiracy to commit theft, and other charges related to a similar scheme. Despite pleading guilty to conspiracy, Freeman, who was called by Dawson’s attorneys to testify, said she never saw Dawson steal any money. As part of her plea agreement, Freeman will spend three years in prison.
Customer complaints about irregular billing and payment accountability at Franklinton’s Water Department prompted the initial investigation by the town, which discovered problems and brought in state auditors. A state legislative audit in 2014 determined that Freeman and Dawson did not follow proper billing procedures and misappropriated thousands of dollars. Both women initially admitted to auditors that they “borrowed” from customer utility collections for their own personal gain. But Dawson recanted that admission during the trial.
The Louisiana State Police also conducted an investigation. The town clerk examined records back to 2011 and found that the two employees would send duplicate bills to cash-paying customers and re-collect from the same customers. The women also altered bills to charge customers more than was actually owed, and they presumably pocketed the rest. Prosecutors had to prove only that Dawson stole more than $1,500, but they argued that losses to the town were greater than $115,000.