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Former court clerk pleads guilty

The former clerk for the city of Russellville’s court system pleaded guilty to theft charges at a hearing on Friday, officials said.
LaDonna Hitt Montgomery, 46, 100 City Lake Drive, Russellville, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree attempted theft of property and received a one-year sentence suspended for two years on the condition that she receive no further criminal charges.
Officials said Montgomery also paid $68,000 in restitution to the city attorney in open court during the hearing.
Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly handled the prosecution for the case after Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing recused himself due to working with Montgomery in the past through her position as city clerk.
According to records, Montgomery was indicted in May for first-degree theft of property for allegedly stealing more than $25,000 from the city court system over a three-year period.
Officials said the statute of limitations allows investigators to go back three years when investigating a theft case, and records show approximately $25,000 was discovered to be missing during that time.
City officials said discrepancies in the bookkeeping records were discovered in May 2012 and Montgomery was placed on administrative leave with pay while a forensic audit was conducted.
The city requested the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to handle the investigation into the theft allegation.
ABI officials said the forensic audit did indeed show that a significant amount of money was missing from the city court system account.
City officials said Montgomery was allegedly taking cash payments that city inmates were paying for fines they incurred.
She is then accused of changing records to cover up the money she had taken and giving the inmates credit for jail time served in return for the money she had taken.
Officials were alerted to the problem when several people were picked up on outstanding warrants but their records showed they had paid fines in place of serving jail time.
Officials said Montgomery was on paid administrative leave from the time the discrepancies were discovered in May 2012 until the forensic audit led to a formal investigation by the ABI in November 2012 and Montgomery was officially terminated from her position.
ABI officials said once their investigation was complete, their findings were presented to the May session of the Franklin County grand jury, which indicted Montgomery on the charge.