Tafner's confirment over
Thea Tafner was released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) Friday as expected.
Chris Burke, FBP spokesman, confirmed her release in the morning from a home confinement program with the New Orleans Community Corrections Office. With that, she begins two years of supervision as ordered in her May 2011 sentencing on embezzlement charges from her time as ambulance chairwoman of Mount Carmel's American Hose Chemical and Fire Company.
Tafner was in Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, W.Va., from June 20, 2011, until May 28 of this year, at which time she was transferred to a halfway house until July 11. After that, she was in the New Orleans program.
She served about 25 months of her 30-month sentence, a typical 85 percent for prisoners who are released early for good behavior.
News of her release was met with disdain by Mount Carmel Borough Mayor J. Kevin Jones.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not," he repeated when asked if he felt justice had been served. "I see people in jail for a lot longer for a lot less."
As with any released federal prisoner, Tafner will report to a U.S. probation officer at prescribed times, Burke said. The frequency is tailored to the case and the defendant's background. While all released prisoners follow general terms of supervision, there are some details specific to a case, such as drug testing or monitoring of financial accounts, he said.
The bureau is not authorized to provide any further details, Burke said, including where Tafner may be living. Jones said he's not aware of where she may be headed.
"I'm sure she's going to leave this area," he predicted.
Restitution at issue
Tafner was sentenced after pleading guilty to embezzlement for opening a fraudulent bank account where investigators said she directed $3,712,203 in Medicare payments.
As part of her sentencing, she was ordered to pay more than $1.8 million in restitution to American Hose, although terms established by the court require a minimum of just $250 a month, meaning it would take some 600 years to pay back the total.
As of Aug. 6, Tafner had paid $91,818.24, which included an $80,000 lump sum and additional monthly payments, and still owes $1,724,226.89.
Tafner, a longtime teacher and elementary principal at Line Mountain at the time of her arrest, had signed an agreement not to appeal her sentencing conditions because the government agreed not to force her to use money from her school employee pension to pay restitution. A later ruling that she'd have to make a lump sump payment of $124,869 to American Hose essentially forced her to use the pension money, Tafner argued in an appeal to the court in 2011. The court ruled on May 29, 2012, that it was legal to require the payment.
Even so, American Hose only received the $80,000 lump sum, or 64 percent of the $124,869, because Tafner had already spent part of it, the U.S. Attorney's Office reported in May.
The court restitution order is still in effect, and the government says it will continue to seek funds and/or property from Tafner, said Heidi Havens, media and community outreach consultant in the U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania.
In June, however, the government lost any right to a lien it had placed on Tafner's Rush Township property in 2011, Havens said, because it was sold at a sheriff's sale.
The property, at 498 Elysburg Road, along Route 54 between Elysburg and Danville, was sold to First National Bank of Pennsylvania for $10,603.77, the amount owed in back taxes and associated costs. Tafner was not paying the mortgage and the bank filed with the court to determine a judgment of $133,551.44. The property was put up for sale by the bank.
She also owns 100-102 W. Saylor St., Atlas, and a 6,350-square-foot empty lot on the same street, but both of those properties are on the list for Northumberland County's next upset sale in September. At an upset sale, properties are sold with payment of all liens, back taxes and mortgage required. The federal government does not have a lien on Tafner's Atlas properties.
While Tafner is charged with embezzling more than $3.7 million, the court system determined she used $1.8 million for personal gain and was ordered to pay back that amount.
Jones, who had testified at Tafner's sentencing on behalf of "8,000 victims," noted how the theft forced American Hose to disband its ambulance service and entangled the organization in lawsuits involving unpaid vendors.
"This is just a terrible thing that has happened," he said Friday.
He said talk continues about possibly doing more to pursue the restitution. He encourages it.
"I have no mercy for her - and I knew her," Jones said.
A now-retired teacher, he car-pooled with Tafner to Line Mountain when he was serving in that district as a long-term substitute.
Jones believes Tafner should have served something more like 20 years, but realizes the prison system is anxious to release those for aren't otherwise a threat to society.
Still, he said, "It's not over 'til it's over. Hopefully, we'll keep pursuing it and hopefully American Hose will keep pursuing it," he said. "We'll see what happens."