Ex-Librarian in Alabama Found Guilty of Theft

Former Phenix City-Russell County, Ala., librarian Irma H. Duke was sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison and ordered to repay $70,000 to the library after she pleaded guilty to first-degree theft of property.

Russell County Circuit Court Judge Al Johnson sentenced Duke after Russell County Chief Assistant District Attorney Buster Landreau outlined details of a plea agreement that avoided a jury trial on the year-old case.

Duke applied for probation, but Johnson deferred a decision on the request until a background report can be completed. He said a hearing will be set within 30-45 days to take up that issue. Meanwhile, she remains free under the same $10,000 bond posted upon her arrest June 15.

Landreau said Duke, who was librarian for more than 30 years, took advantage of a process in which she was issued pre-signed blank checks to pay library employees, including herself. She routinely wrote herself two paychecks when she was due only one. She also used library funds to pay for cell phones for herself and two children, bought one child a sewing machine and used library credit cards to purchase personal items, he said.

After Landreau outlined the allegations the state expected to prove at trial, covering only a three-year period of her tenure, Johnson asked the 54-year-old defendant whether it was true that she committed the alleged thefts.

"It is true," Duke said.

The thefts came to light following a citywide audit last year. She was fired June 8 by the library board and was charged with the Class B felony after Russell County District Attorney Kenneth Davis investigated the case and obtained a grand jury indictment. The crime is punishable by from two to 20 years in prison.

Duke earned an annual salary of about $40,000 a year, presided over two full-time library workers and a number of part-time employees, and handled a budget of more than $162,000 a year.

The June firing of Duke was the second time she had been dismissed as library director. She was fired in June 1982 by a 3-2 library board vote. No reason for the firing was issued and she was re-hired by a restructured board in November 1982 without back pay and with no explanation of events that led to her dismissal.