LARGO — Before she sentenced Kimberly Sue Ross, Pinellas Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley gave her a history quiz.
Who was James B. Sanderlin? the judge asked.
Ross blotted the tears on her cheeks. She knew that Sanderlin was the first African-American judge in circuit court. She also knew that he was the namesake of the nonprofit organization that provides a wealth of free services to low-income families. It's the same organization from which she admitted embezzling $200,000.
Ross, 47, was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for grand theft from the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center. Her sentence includes a third-degree felony charge from January 2012 for failing to redeliver leased property.
In a case Ley called aggravating, Ross said she was unaware that she wrote 232 fraudulent checks totaling $200,337 in four years. Financial crimes investigator John Pickart said Ross monitored the account balances, wrote checks sequentially with the same dollar amount and even wrote checks directly payable to Progress Energy for her electric bill.
Ross, who worked at the center as a program manager responsible for handling the budget, paying the bills and supervising administration, lived an $80,000 income lifestyle while earning an average annual salary of $40,000.
She spent the money on furniture, fast food, jewelry, an Xbox, bowling, Netflix, a hair salon, cable TV, flowers, Adventure Island, a pet store, and the flea market, Pickart said.
Ross was fired in 2011 after the investigation began and is now employed as a tax preparer at Jackson Hewitt. Ross said her employer knew about her pending charge.
When her trial began in 2012, the state requested a four-year sentence. Ross pleaded not guilty, and the requested sentence went up to five years. Ross changed her plea, and after hearing her testimony, which focused on how the trial has affected her life and how she went to work at a tax service, the state requested one more year of prison time.
"She knew that when she was taking this money, she was taking it from people that needed it," Assistant State Attorney Scott Vieth said.
Ross, a mother of four, asked for a punishment of restitution of $1,500 a month and community service at the Sanderlin center, but Ley denied her request after she failed to provide payment before.
"To me, it'd be more valuable to them to use money than for me sitting there and my children have nothing and go back to the community center," Ross said.
The center still employs Ross' son, who grew up at the center.
"I don't believe in punishing children for the sins of their parents," said Lounell Britt, executive director of the Sanderlin Center.
Colleen Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.