A federal judge on Wednesday ordered a Warner woman to serve probation and pay restitution for her conviction stemming from the embezzlement of more than $54,000 from the local chapter of a union that represents about 500 Veterans Health Administration employees.

Christy Little Coppin was ordered to pay restitution totaling nearly $52,740 in monthly installments of not less than $200 beginning Oct. 1. Half of any state or federal tax refund for any year during which an outstanding balance remains must be paid toward restitution.

Coppin pleaded guilty in February to one count of theft within special maritime and territorial jurisdiction, which is subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to five years in prison. Federal prosecutors say the theft occurred during a span of two years that began sometime after she was hired in May 2015 as secretary for American Federation of Government Employees Local 2250. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah McAmis, in documents filed with the court, said Coppin abruptly left her job in July 2017 after learning about union officers' plans to conduct an overdue audit. Upon her unannounced departure, union leaders found the laptop Coppin used "had been wiped of any records occurring after 2015."

After attempting "to reconstruct the records," union officers determined "all of the financial reports, bank statements, membership minutes and receipts were missing" from the laptop. McAmis, according to court documents, said union officers examined bank records and ultimately determined Coppin "had embezzled over $54,000 by writing numerous signed checks to herself."

That information was presented to the U.S. Department of Labor. Investigators, court documents show, "obtained a written statement" from Coppin, who later "confessed to taking the money," but "claimed she did not know how much she had taken." 

McAmis states in court documents that Coppin was able to make the checks payable to her because those who were authorized to sign the checks "had a regular practice of signing blank checks" and leaving them with the secretary. They did this, McAmis states, "because they considered her a friend and trusted her."

The probationary sentence of five years departs from the 10 to 16 months in prison recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. Robert S. Williams, an assistant federal public defender, sought the variance on the grounds that imprisonment would render Coppin unable to pay restitution or support "her infirm husband" and two children.

"Ms. Coppin's criminal conduct threatens to unravel the delicate tapestry of an already difficult life," Williams states in his motion seeking a variance from sentencing guidelines. "Furthermore, the negative impact of incarceration would collaterally affect her innocent children."

Williams said his client was making no "excuses for her conduct," adding a "term of probation is not a get-out-of-jail-free card." He said probation "imposes a real form of punishment" that imposes substantial restrictions on a person's liberty."

McAmis argued against probation, noting Coppin on two prior occasions engaged in acts similar to that alleged in the federal indictment. 

U.S. District Judge Ronald A. White, however, deemed the variation "appropriate," accepted Coppin's guilty plea, and granted her request for probation. 

Coppin was ordered to make restitution payments to the U.S. Court Clerk for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. 

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