ST. PETERSBURG — For years, Deborah Haugabook has been a favorite at her job as a court supervisor for the Pinellas County clerk.
The 49-year-old has worked for the agency since she was 21, most recently in its St. Petersburg office, and last year got a performance review that rated her as "excellent" and noted her judgment skills.
But this past week, she confronted her boss, Clerk of Court Ken Burke, with a confession.
Crying, and with her adult son by her side, Haugabook admitted to stealing $8,500 from cash used to pay jurors, Burke said.
"She was very despondent," Burke told the St. Petersburg Times. "We're having bad economic times. Her home has gone through foreclosure. She had a grandbaby die last year."
Burke also said Haugabook's mother is dying.
Haugabook, who could not be reached for comment, told Burke she even tried to return the money by gambling, but she failed. She confessed Wednesday after sensing that her supervisors would discover the missing cash from a safe. She didn't say how exactly she was able to take the money or for how long.
Officials have alerted both the St. Petersburg police and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. Internal auditors have found $9,500 missing since February, Burke said.
Haugabook has been placed on paid administrative leave and will face an internal hearing this Thursday. Burke has said he will seek her firing.
"Obviously, what she did was wrong," he said.
The clerk of the Circuit Court pays jurors in cash out of efficiency and convenience. Because of some high-profile cases that required preparing for more jurors, the St. Petersburg office where Haugabook works had more money than usual.
The clerk's office has begun nightly counts of cash on hand, said chief deputy director Myriam Irizarry. "Obviously, something in the procedures was not being followed in that office."
David Decamp can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Kameel Stanley can be reached at (727) 893-8643 or email@example.com.