By Nancy Drury Duncan —
Angela Hinman “Angel” Taylor, the former Hallwood town clerk who pleaded guilty to 12 felony charges in a February plea agreement with the commonwealth, will spend nine months in jail. Taylor was sentenced to five years on each count to run concurrently. All but nine months of that time was suspended.
A Virginia State Police investigation found 65 instances where Taylor, 48, of Hall Street in Hallwood, committed felony embezzlement by writing checks to herself and paying her personal electric bill with town funds. Because all the town’s financial records were lost when Taylor’s car caught fire and burned with the records inside a few days before a town audit was scheduled, investigators were not able to prove other money was taken as well, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan at the trial.
The total amount of money that was uncovered by the investigation was $24,009.71. This includes $19,368.19 from 55 unauthorized checks Taylor wrote to herself from the town account and $4,641.52 in payments to ANEC for her personal electric bill. Taylor was employed as town clerk for 13 years and was responsible for paying the town bills, maintaining meeting minutes, and other secretarial jobs.
“Hers was the single authorized signature required on town checks. Her salary was $350 a month with extra for selling town decals,” Morgan told the court. The investigation covered only the time period between Aug. 31, 2011, and Sept. 12, 2017. She was arrested in January 2019 and later released on bond.
In return for her pleas of guilty and having already made full restitution, the commonwealth aggregated all the instances of embezzlement committed over a six-month period into a single felony count. The final instance of embezzlement identified by police was on Sept. 12, 2017. This was just weeks before she was ordered by Hallwood officials to provide the town’s financial records to an Atlantic bookkeeper for an audit. Those records were in Taylor’s car along with other town files when she said the vehicle caught fire on Wessells Farm Road near Hallwood.
The car was hauled to a local salvage yard, crushed, and taken away before town officials found out about it. Taylor resigned from her job in October 2017. Because all the town’s records were destroyed in the fire, state police investigators only had bank records and electric bills to acquire evidence against her.
Town officials said they waived taxes, trash collection fees, and car decal fees for residents who signed affidavits saying they paid in cash because it could not be proven whether their bills had been paid. Taylor was among those swore to the town she had paid her taxes in cash.
“There is some concern among town officials that cash payments for decals may have been taken also, but there is no evidence,” Morgan said, referring to the destroyed records. He said when he first interviewed Taylor, she downplayed any embezzlement. “There was a fair amount of denial,” he said.
Called to the witness stand at her sentencing by defense attorney Carl Bundick, Taylor said she would lose her job driving a truck making deliveries for Lowe’s if convicted of a felony. “My boss wants to keep me employed,” she told the court. “I tried to make amends. I paid the restitution and helped the town.” Taylor said.
“Was the car fire an accident?” Morgan asked. Taylor responded that it was.
Bundick next called Hallwood Mayor Jackie Poulson to the witness stand. He said he had known Taylor all his life and called her “a great person.”
“I would like to see all charges dropped to misdemeanors,” he told the court. He said Taylor donated her time to clean the town office and cut the grass after her arrest.
“Not everybody on the Town Council agrees with your position,” said Morgan. He asked Poulson what problems her embezzlement caused the town. “We were behind on bills,” Poulson answered.
“These are felonies,” Morgan said. “It is a breach of the public trust. Some Town Council members are very angry and upset.”
“She moved swiftly to pay off the $24,009.71,” said Bundick. He suggested she be given an alternative punishment rather than jail. “Consider her demeanor and acceptance of responsibility,” he said. “Give her community service so she can remain employed.”
“Today you said you pleaded guilty because you were guilty,” said Judge W. Revell Lewis III. “But before, you said you were advised to pay yourself the extra money. You said you could not work out of the town office. That is why you had the records at home. You made a lot of justification for what you did. You seemed to say you were entitled to it.”
He remanded her to jail to begin serving her time and ordered her to be on supervised probation for two years and to be on good behavior for five years.
Taylor wept during her testimony and as she was led from the courtroom.