Man steals checks; admits $34,000 theft

A Lower Salem man who illegally cashed dozens of checks belonging to the elderly woman under his parents’ care pleaded guilty Monday in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

Shawn D. Souther, 39, pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of theft for stealing thousands of dollars from the 93-year-old Lower Salem woman.

Souther had been staying at the woman’s house in June 2013 when he first started taking checks, said Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider.

“This was a crime of opportunity. He was staying there,” said Schneider.

Souther took around 50 checks, signed the victim’s name, and cashed them in amounts ranging from $200 to $975, said Schneider.

Souther depleted just over $34,000 from the woman’s checking account over the next few months, he said.

The missing money was eventually discovered around September by the victim’s accountant, who investigated the checks and found they had not been signed by the victim or an authorized person.

“Eventually a deputy talked to Mr. Souther about it and he admitted it,” added Schneider.

Souther officially admitted to the charge in court Monday.

Denying his final opportunity to recant his guilty plea and exercise his due process for a jury trail, Souther replied “If I was innocent your honor I would, but I’m guilty.”

Souther was initially indicted on a third-degree felony count of theft and a third-degree felony count of forgery, both elevated because the victim was elderly and the amount stolen exceeded $7,500.

However, as part of a plea agreement, the forgery charge was dropped and the language elevating the theft crime to a third-degree felony was also removed, said Schneider.

However, Schneider and Souther’s attorney, George Cosenza, agreed that Souther will still be accountable for the full $34,000 restitution.

“The defense counsel and I have agreed to a restitution amount that exceeds what is actually being charged,” said Schneider.

The victim was agreeable to such a resolution, he said.

Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane told Souther he has the ability to sentence him to a maximum of one year in prison and $2,500 in fines on the charge.

Souther is scheduled to be sentenced June 5 at 8:15 a.m.

Souther has yet to repay any of the stolen money, but has indicated to Schneider through his attorney that he will pay it in full by the time of sentencing, said Schneider following the hearing.