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State senator's daughter gets jail

Teresa Johnson, daughter of state Sen. Karen Johnson, was sentenced Monday to six months in jail for skimming money from her former employer, state Rep. Helen Spivey.

Johnson, 30, was arrested in December and charged with seven counts of forgery, seven counts of uttering a forged check and nine counts of petty theft.

On Monday morning, she pleaded guilty to the forgery and forged check charges in exchange for prosecutors dropping the petty theft charges. Johnson also admitted to violating her probation in two cases that date back to 1988.

"I think it'll get her attention and also get her some help," Spivey said Monday afternoon. "She's a very bright woman. It's so hard to see someone waste a talent like that."

The allegations came to light in October when Spivey announced that $1,250 to $1,750 was missing from her House office account. Spivey suspected Johnson early on and fired her.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was called in to investigate whether Johnson, who had been hired in August as a temporary employee, had stolen money and falsified time sheets.

In addition to the jail time, Johnson was ordered to pay $1,618.45 in restitution to Spivey's taxpayer-supported account. She also owes FDLE $2,100 for investigative costs. Each month, Johnson will pay back $50 or 20 percent of her gross income, whichever is greater, starting 90 days after she is released from the county jail.

Johnson is required to find a job within three months of her release and work 40 hours a week throughout her probation. She is not allowed to seek a job in which she handles cash or bookkeeping unless she is under constant supervision. If she is found to be psychologically disabled, she will perform community service work.

Also, Johnson must enroll in counseling for two years after her release from jail.

Circuit Judge John Thurman agreed to suspend an additional six months in jail as a condition that Johnson successfully complete nine years' probation and all of the conditions of that probation. If she pays restitution and fines and completes counseling, Johnson's probation can end after seven years.

"I have always known that Terry was responsible for her own actions and that she was eventually going to have to pay for them," Karen Johnson said in an interview Monday. "It's unfortunate that for most of us parents, when our children reach 18, all we can do is pray for them for the rest of their lives, and she's 30 years old."

Monday's plea agreement comes about six weeks after another arrangement fell through. Under the original negotiation, Johnson would have spent six days in jail and seven years on probation for offenses that carry a maximum penalty of 128 years in jail, according to court documents.

"Terry has been most cooperative and motivated through this," the elder Johnson said, noting that her daughter had urged the conclusion of the case so she can get on with her life.

When the inquiry was reported in October, Karen Johnson said her daughter had been having family problems. The younger Johnson was distraught when confronted with the allegations and checked herself into a mental health facility for a few days.

"The people in this community have been fabulous," Karen Johnson said. "They've told me that I did the very best that I could . . . and a lot of people said they've been there themselves."

The younger Johnson has a history of trouble with the law.

In 1988, she was arrested for stealing commissions at the credit card security company where she worked by charging people for insurance they did not buy. She pleaded no contest and was sentenced to house arrest for two years and told to pay restitution, court costs and fines.

At the time of that arrest, Johnson was serving a sentence of two years' probation for forging her sister-in-law's name on two checks totaling more than $400.

Records show that Johnson violated her probation and house arrest by missing meetings and failing to pay court costs, among other things. Her probation officer recommended that she be sent to prison for five years, but she was not.

Johnson also had run-ins with several landlords and with the Teddy Bear Day Care and Pre-School in Inverness, which her two children attend. The center won a lawsuit against Johnson in March 1995, and Johnson was ordered to pay the center $388.

Spivey, who has worked in rehabilitation services, said she thinks it often takes an outside influence to get a person out of trouble. She said she hopes Johnson will take advantage of counseling in the coming months.

"I know it's going to be painful for her," Spivey said. "She's got a long time to live and I'm confident she doesn't want to live her life the way she's been living."

_ Staff writer Barbara Behrendt and information from Times files contributed to this report.