Arkansas Grandma’s $300K Theft Challenged: Addiction Not an Excuse


Posted on: August 30, 2023, 07:25h. 

Last updated on: August 30, 2023, 07:25h.

A bank teller with a gambling addiction and mental health issues has been sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison for stealing $300k from the Premier Bank of Arkansas (PBA), according to The Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Southland Casino, Pamela Cooper, Arkansas bank, Southern Bankcorp
Southland Casino, Arkansas, above, where Cooper blew her ill-gotten gains in the space of 13 months. Prosecutors said it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if she avoided prison, (Image: WREG.com)

Grandmother Pamela Cooper, 63, from Marion, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from the PBA branch in the Memphis metropolitan area. PBA was acquired by Southern Bankcorp last year.

An FBI investigation revealed that Cooper, who earned a $30k salary at the branch, lost a total of $311,925 at the nearby Southland Casino over a span of 13 months, from November 2019 to December 2020.

Internal Audit

Cooper was fired from the bank on December 22, 2020, following an internal audit that discovered a $200k deficit in its funds.

A subsequent investigation into teller drawers and recycler machines uncovered an additional $94k was missing.

The only audit pending was Cooper’s teller drawer, which she couldn’t open due to taking leave upon hearing about the audit. When it was finally opened, it contained just over $5k instead of the expected $25k.

Cooper’s actions would have been discovered sooner if she hadn’t transferred money from the vault to the recycler and manipulated the records to hide the missing funds, according to prosecutors.

The subsequent audit determined that Cooper was the only employee with access to both the vault and the recycler.

Chasing Losses

Cooper’s defense lawyer, Molly Sullivan, highlighted that Cooper had received mental health counseling for her gambling addiction since her arrest.

“An addiction to gambling doesn’t excuse her actions, but it does provide an explanation,” Sullivan stated, as reported by the Gazette. “She thought she could win big at the casino and pay back the money, but that obviously didn’t happen.”

Sullivan, the public defender, requested a lenient sentence of one day in prison followed by five years of supervised release, citing Cooper’s mental health problems, previous good conduct, and remorse.

However, Assistant US Attorney Will Crow argued that such a sentence would be a “miscarriage of justice” considering that the defendant initially faced up to 30 years in prison. U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. agreed, stating, “You can’t steal over $300,000 and avoid prison time.”

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