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Woman pleads guilty to embezzling from special ed organization

Woman pleads guilty to embezzling from special ed organization

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A 58-year-old woman pleaded guilty on Friday to embezzling more than $65,000 from a statewide special education organization in 2017.

Shannon Marie O'Brien Murphy entered a guilty plea to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Friday. As part of a plea agreement signed in January, federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss 27 other charges included in Murphy's indictment

Murphy had been with the Montana Council for Exceptional Children in several capacities over her 20-year tenure that ended in 2017, Assistant U.S. District Attorney Tim Racicot said during Friday's hearing. From 2009 through 2017, she had served as treasurer for the nonprofit, which seeks to improve educational outcomes for children with disabilities.

In 2017, the Montana chapter president notified the Lake County Sheriff's Office of an alleged embezzlement of between $50,000 and $75,000. Investigators found Murphy had written herself 23 unauthorized checks from the organization and used the organization's debit card to pay for personal expenditures on four occasions, according to court filings. 

Murphy admitted to the embezzlement to the organization's board of directors in 2017, and later during an interview with the FBI in 2018, Racicot said. 

Murphy, who told U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen DeSoto on Friday she is a widow, appeared to have financial troubles following her husband's death, Racicot said. 

"I did it," Murphy said with a regretful tone during Friday's hearing. "I don't deny I did it."

John Rhodes, Murphy's public defender, said the federal sentencing guidelines in Murphy's case call for a two-year prison term, "on the high-end."

DeSoto set Murphy's sentencing hearing for May 28 before Chief District Judge Dana Christensen.

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