While her lawyer said Carter should remain on the council until her sentencing in March, state law appears to remove her from office from the moment she was convicted.
Carter appeared with her lawyer, Joel Dillard of Birmingham, in the Hugo Black Federal Courthouse for the hearing at 8:30 a.m.
Johnson explained to Carter the purpose of Wednesday’s hearing: first, to assure that she understood the charges against her and the consequences she faced, then to hear her plea.
Answering the judge’s questions, Carter testified that she’s 61 years old, she understood the facts of the case and she has been satisfied with her legal representation.
She testified that she was entering her plea freely and voluntarily; that she was not under the influence of drugs, alcohol or medication; that she did not have a mental or emotional condition that would keep her from understanding the proceedings; and that she understood the bank fraud and money laundering charges against her carry penalties of up to 30 years imprisonment and $1 million in fines. And, she testified that the facts as stated in a plea are true.
Johnson asked, “Do you wish to plead guilty because you are guilty?”
Carter replied, “Yes ma’am.”
The judge accepted Carter’s guilty plea 26 minutes into the hearing, and allowed her to remain free on her existing bond until her sentencing hearing, which Johnson scheduled for March 11 at 3 p.m. in Birmingham.
The judge said a pre-sentencing report will be prepared before then.
Carter was charged in October with stealing almost $1 million from SouthFirst Bank in Sylacauga, where she worked as an account clerk, between June 2004 and March 2013.
The plea agreement stipulated that Carter embezzled the money by transferring it into savings accounts in her daughter’s name, then having her daughter withdraw the money for her. The transfers were made by recording journal entries from general ledger accounts and by skimming money from checks payable to SouthFirst. Carter also made electronic transfers from the bank’s operating expense account to pay personal bills, including payments to the Alabama Department of Revenue, Alabama Power, AT&T, Capital One, Department of Education Student Loans, Hoovers Tax, HSBC Card Services, One Main Financial, Santander, Shelby Tax Filing and T-Mobile.
In the agreement, prosecutors agreed to reduce the offense level to recommend a sentence at the low end of the advisory guidelines. Carter has agreed to pay restitution of $951,787.06 to SouthFirst and to serve some prison time. She told the judge she understood that the court is not bound by her plea agreement in determining her sentence.
Carter would not speak after the hearing, but Dillard said she should be able to remain on the city council until her sentencing date.
“It will be up to the city council to determine the continuation of her service,” he said.
However, Alabama Code Section 36-9-2 says that when any person holding office in the state is convicted of a felony, “his office or place shall be vacated from the time of the conviction. If the judgment is reversed, new trial granted or judgment notwithstanding the verdict is rendered, he shall be restored to office; but, if pardoned, he shall not be restored to office.”
Carter was elected to represent Childersburg’s Ward C in 2008, and was re-elected last year.
Contact Bill Kimber at email@example.com