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Our Opinion: It's time to pay

September 27, 2001

Teri Smelser, a well-known Brawley resident who has a long history of community service in the North County, has pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement against the Cattle Call Rodeo Committee.

She will be sentenced for that crime on Nov. 11 and could be facing a prison sentence of up to two years.

We support the way the District Attorney's Office has handled the Smelser case and we support the DA in pursuing a two-year sentence, which is the maximum Smelser could receive according to the agreement that led to her pleading.

A lot of people put their faith and trust in Smelser and she abused that trust.

Yes, she apparently has returned at least a portion of the embezzled funds to the organizations from which she pilfered, including a church, but there still are questions as to whether she has completely returned all the money she embezzled.

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Cattle Call Rodeo Committee members allege Smelser has not, and we urge the committee to seek restitution if it thinks it has not been adequately repaid. The committee members deserve plaudits for the extra efforts they put into making sure a Cattle Call Rodeo could be staged last year and this year. The committee had to seek a $50,000 loan last year and this year to cover costs, thanks to the embezzlement.

Smelser was accused of several crimes, including the financial abuse of an elderly person, but she pleaded guilty to only count.

We are pleased Smelser has taken some ownership for the crimes. But, as the DA's Office has argued, that does not excuse the fact that the crime occurred and that people and important organizations in this Valley were hurt.

A strong message must be sent. The message should be clear that if you are involved in embezzling money, you will have to pay the price. And if that means a bit of jail time for Smelser, so be it.

The message needs to be sent that just because you happen to be involved in prominent groups, or have money, does not give you more rights than the rest of us. A crime is a crime even if a prominent person commits it.

No one is above the law. We hope Smelser has learned that lesson. We hope all those who would abuse the public trust have learned that lesson.

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