Former Cherryville utility supervisor Jennifer Neal Hoyle tearfully apologized Thursday for embezzling nearly $100,000 in taxpayers’ money before she was sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison.
The first time she stood up to address the judge Hoyle broke down and couldn’t talk. Later, somewhat recovered but still sobbing, Hoyle said, “I wish I had an explanation for my activity” and that “I will never forgive myself.”
Saying she was “deeply sorry,” Hoyle said she hoped that someday “my hometown will forgive me.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad, who sentenced Hoyle to prison, also ordered her to pay $92,922.55 in restitution to the city.
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Hoyle was responsible for collecting and posting utility payments made by Cherryville utilities customers.
Prosecutors said that between January 2008 and May 2011 she embezzled from the city by taking cash payments made by customers paying their utility bills.
The embezzlement charges were part of a scandal that rocked Cherryville in fall 2012.
Six men were charged in a scheme authorities said involved offers of protection to trucks carrying stolen goods and cash. Four had ties to law enforcement. All six pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to prison.
Three city employees, including Hoyle and former police Chief Woody Burgess, were charged with embezzlement. All pleaded guilty. The first of the three employees to be sentenced was former finance director Bonnie Alexander. She was sentenced in February to 24 months in prison.
Hoyle’s husband, Mark Hoyle, was sentenced in February to 21 months in prison for his role in the scheme.
Jennifer Hoyle’s fraud was uncovered when a customer questioned the duplicate charges on her bill, according to court records.
In court on Thursday, newly elected Cherryville Mayor H.L. Beam III told Conrad that the money Hoyle took from the city’s “hardworking taxpayers, utility customers and her fellow co-workers and citizens” was used to “support a lifestyle that exceeded her salary.”
Her actions harmed the city and “these consequences continue to this day and will be felt for many years down the road,” Beam said.
Among those consequences, he mentioned residents’ concerns with utility statements and questioning the integrity of city employees, and the city’s risk and liability insurance carrier canceling coverage.
“The loss of faith of our citizens and customers in their local government has been shaken to the core,” Beam said.
When Hoyle addressed the judge, she commented that everything Beam said was true and that she’d disgraced herself, family, friends, the city of Cherryville and elected officials.
Hoyle said that when she gets out of prison she’ll never have a chance at a decent job and will “forever suffer the consequences.”
“I was supposed to be a role model for my children to teach them the difference from right and wrong,” Hoyle said.
While she often cries at night and can’t sleep, “at the end of the day, I deserve it all,” she said.
Asking forgiveness, Hoyle said that someday, “I hope to be the person I was.”
After the sentencing hearing, Beam said: “I hope we’re on the way to healing.”