Columbia woman charged with financial exploitation is sentenced to prison

Monday, December 10, 2012 | 9:59 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A Columbia woman who pleaded guilty in October to financially exploiting a person with a disability will serve four months in prison and will then be placed on probation so she can begin to pay back the woman she bilked out of tens 0f thousands of dollars.

Deanna Harris received a sentence of eight years in prison but will spend 120 days in prison, after which Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter will review the case to see if probation is warranted. When Harris is released, she will  be required to pay at least $400 a month in restitution to Luana Harrison, the victim of the crime. If she fails to make the payment, she will be sent back to prison.

"I think it would be very beneficial to Ms. Harrison to receive some of her money, but I just don't trust you," Carpenter said in Boone County Circuit Court on Monday in explaining her decision to send Harris to prison for some time.

Harris borrowed thousands of dollars from Harrison between April and September of 2010 under false pretenses and didn't pay her back. 

Harrison testified last month that she would like to see Harris given the maximum possible sentence.

Harris never took the stand.

At Monday's sentencing, Columbia Police Detective Bryan Liebhart testified about his investigation of Harris' interactions with Harrison. He said Harris first met Harrison at Harrison's place of employment in the fall of 2009 and sold her a girdle for more than its actual value.

Shortly after that, Harris called Harrison at home asking for money, and Harrison refused at her husband's insistence.

Several months later and shortly after the death of her husband, Harrison was contacted again by Harris, who asked for money. From February to April 2010, Liebhart found seven checks signed to Harris totaling $3,700 — money that Harrison had given freely.

Liebhart then testified that in April 2010, Harris asked Harrison if she could borrow money from her, promising that she would pay her back. He testified that he had found checks signed from Harrison to Harris totaling $13,700. In addition to the checks Harris received, Liebhart found that in June 2010 Harrison had cashed out three certificates of deposit accounts totaling $10,350.

Liebhart also testified that Harris continued to pressure Harrison out of her money by tricking Harrison into believing she was responsible for the illness of a fictional person Harris called "Richard," and that Harrison would need to provide money for his medical bills or risk being sued.

At one point Harris allegedly produced a fake receipt for court costs from "Richard," Liebhart testified.

Harris had Harrison sign up for credit cards, and the two women went to stores to purchase items that Harris promised she would sell to cover this fictional person's bills, Liebhart testified.

Liebhart also said that Harris approached Harrison shortly after she had filed a complaint with the police and coerced her into calling Liebhart to say she wished to drop the charges.

After Harris was arrested in April 2011, Liebhart testified that he had interviewed Harris, who admitted that she knew of Harrison's mental disability and also acknowledged that "Richard" did not exist.

Samuel J. Buckins, Harris' boyfriend, testified that Harris was employed and would have the ability to make restitution to Harrison, if she were given probation.

Assistant Prosecutor Ryan Haigh recommended that Harris serve eight years in prison.

Public Defender David Wallis requested that Harris be given probation so that she could start paying Harrison back.

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