AMITE — The former recording secretary for the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission pleaded guilty Monday to stealing nearly $2 million from the juvenile justice district over a 10-year period.
Brenda Bickford pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft in 21st Judicial District Court.
Bickford spent the money on day-to-day expenses, including her mother’s stay at a nursing home, day care and home improvements, as well as injecting funds into her son’s business, said Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, who prosecuted the case.
Caldwell will dismiss the single count of forgery against Bickford, he said, and the state has agreed not to file other charges stemming from the same conduct.
Ad hoc Judge Jerome Winsburg deferred sentencing to Sept. 7 and ordered a pre-sentencing investigation.
The two felony theft counts each carry a maximum sentence of up to 10 years at hard labor and $3,000 in fines, Winsburg said.
Bickford’s sentence will depend on the outcome of the pre-sentencing investigation, but in any event, will not exceed eight years with the Department of Corrections, Winsburg said.
That agreement was between the defense and the judge, Caldwell said.
Pre-sentencing investigations give the court a chance to look into a defendant’s criminal record, if any, and the severity of the conduct involved, Caldwell said.
Bickford is a first-time offender, Caldwell said, so the court’s focus likely will be on the amount of money stolen, how it was spent and whether Bickford can make any restitution.
“The problem in this case is that there are no real assets to show for the money,” Caldwell said.
The Attorney General’s Office has completed a forensic analysis on the bank accounts involved, and that information will be given to the judge for consideration, Caldwell said.
According to the original bill of information, Bickford stole over $1 million from the district between July 1, 2007, and Nov. 17, 2010.
Another count of felony theft was added in April to account for an additional $800,000 stolen between Jan. 1, 2001, and July 1, 2007.
Winsburg was assigned to the case after all eight judges in the 21st Judicial District recused themselves, because “to some extent,” they each had supervised Bickford, court records show.
The Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission is the governing body over the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice District.
The district’s primary responsibility is to oversee the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center, which houses juvenile offenders from Livingston, St. Helena, Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
Bickford served as the commission’s recording secretary for 16 years prior to her arrest.
She also served as executive assistant to District Attorney Scott Perrilloux for 14 years.