BROOKSVILLE — Jennifer Hoefler was set to face a judge next week and admit to stealing more than a quarter-million dollars from customers at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union.
A prison sentence was expected to follow after the former Brooksville branch manager for the credit union pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud. But on Monday, on what was likely one of her last days of freedom, Hoefler, 41, died at her Floral City home from what authorities determined to be natural causes.
Hoefler's husband, Herb, checked on her about 11 a.m. and realized she wasn't breathing, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office said. She apparently died in her sleep. Hoefler had been struggling with medical problems, said her attorney, Jeffrey Cario.
Hoefler's death brings a tragic end to a sad case, said Suncoast Schools president and chief executive officer Tom Dorety. Her arrest in March and subsequent dismissal came as a shock to credit union officials, who described Hoefler as a model employee for nearly two decades.
"There are a lot of victims in this situation, and Jennifer was certainly one of them," Dorety said. "She was here a long time, so we're extremely sorry."
Last month, Hoefler signed an agreement with federal prosecutors and was scheduled to formally enter a guilty plea on Sept. 19 in U.S. District Court in Tampa. She faced up to 30 years in prison but would not have received that much time because she did not have a prior criminal record. Federal prosecutors planned to make a favorable sentencing recommendation if she agreed to certain conditions.
As part of the agreement, Hoefler was to pay restitution to the credit union of $229,754.50. Without a formal adjudication of guilt, however, there is no recourse for restitution, said William Daniels, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
From about January 2011 until her arrest on March 19, Hoefler used a variety of methods to steal money from customer accounts, court documents show, including unauthorized cash withdrawals and forged cashier's checks.
The episode prompted internal security changes at the credit union, Dorety said. Suncoast Schools reimbursed account holders, and liability insurance will cover at least some of the losses, he said.
"As far as remuneration is concerned, it was never top of mind for us," he said. "It was more about reinstating the trust of our members and making sure we took care of that exactly the way we should, which we've done."
Hoefler was "very respected by peers and colleagues until this matter arose," Cario said. "Her problems were a result of becoming addicted to prescribed pain medications due to her many health issues."
Hoefler's obituary describes her as a cheerful person who enjoyed reading and attending her children's softball and soccer games. She was a Girl Scout leader and active with the Suncoast for Kids Foundation in Hernando County.
Survivors include three children and a granddaughter. Visitation will be at 5 p.m. Friday at Brewer & Sons Funeral Home in Brooksville. The funeral will follow at 6 p.m.