State prison for woman who stole from business

A woman who pleaded guilty to felony charges of theft for stealing around $29,000 from her employer was sentenced to state prison in Lycoming County Court Friday.

Tona R. Virtue, 35, formerly of 1129 Park Ave., Lock Haven, will serve 18 months to five years in a state prison for taking advantage of her position of keeping books and paying bills for R&J Excavating.

Virtue was hired by Cheryl and Ronald Welshans in June of 2015.

After looking at the company’s credit card statement, Cheryl Welshans contacted police about suspicious charges she hadn’t made to Susquehanna Health, Jersey Shore Hospital, Verizon and others, according to court records.

Cheryl Welshans looked deeper into the business checking account and found that Virtue was leaking money to another account belonging to her boyfriend using QuickBooks accounting system and labeling the transfers as “payroll.”

According to the affidavit, there was no set pattern of transfers, only that they ended Sept. 22, Virtue’s last day working.

This type of theft is something Virtue has a problem with, rooted in a struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder, according to a pre-sentence investigation.

“You being compelled to steal is something I am compelled to disregard,” Judge Marc F. Lovecchio said. ” … I don’t buy it.”

The stiff sentence applied to Virtue because her conduct was not opportunistic, but calculated, Lovecchio said.

“You were setting up other accounts, other social security numbers and using different names,” he said. “It was cold, calculated and manipulative.”

The family business was virtually destroyed from the crime, but Virtue said she never wanted to hurt anyone.

“This tortures me everyday,” Virtue said in court. “I hate hurting people … but this is something I have been doing since I was five when I stole mail from the neighborhood.”

As part of Virtue’s sentence, she will have to pay restitution to the Welshans beginning with a job through the state Department of Corrections while incarcerated.

Lovecchio also stated she must take advantage of mental health and psychiatric treatment to curb the recurrent criminal behavior.

“The first step to bettering yourself is to get rid of the guilt … the shame,” he said. “Take the rocks out of your backpack and take responsibility for getting better.”

Virtue’s sentence began immediately after the hearing.