A Columbia County woman charged with numerous forgery counts from unauthorized checks was sentenced to two years in prison Thursday morning after a guilty plea in local circuit court. The counts stemmed from a 2018 case that saw the issuance of more than $21,000 in checks from the defendant’s grandmother’s account, without authority or permission to do so.
Jessica L. Vines, 33, of Waldo was scheduled for a jury trial Feb. 27-28, but she, along with her attorney, Lindsey Thomson of Ashdown, struck a plea deal with the state during the pre-trial term. The defendant was facing 50 counts of second-degree forgery, but, as part of the deal, the charges were amended to only three counts: one for each month she issued the unauthorized checks.
“It’s a continuing [course of conduct],” said Deputy Prosecutor Ryan Phillips to the court. “For the months of April, May, and June , we’re going to treat those as the three counts.”
Vines was also facing two revocation of probation cases but they were “nolle prossed” and instead converted by Circuit Judge David W. Talley Jr. to a new, five-year SIS (suspended imposition of sentence) term as part of sentencing. The defendant was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $21,722.42 — the total figure of the checks.
Vines in November 2018 was arrested by the Magnolia Police Department. She was out on bond during Thursday’s pleading but has now been turned over to the custody of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department as she awaits transfer to the Arkansas Department of Corrections. She also had 34 days of jail credit that will be applied to her prison sentence.
According to a December 2018 Magnolia Police Department probable cause affidavit, checks in her grandmother’s name were written to Vines, then cashed with a signature not belonging to the victim.
“[The grandmother] said she did not write the checks, nor did she sign the checks or authorize the checks to be cashed,” the affidavit said.
The report also stated that “the signatures do not appear to be similar” and Vines was seen on Magnolia bank video during the transactions.
Vines was already on probation during the 2018 crimes. She was previously convicted for credit-debit card theft in 2017 and theft of property $1,000-$5,000 in 2016, according to court records.
A specific condition of her newly-issued SIS sentence mandates that a longterm substance abuse treatment program must be completed. If Vines chooses not to finish the program, the judge informed her that she could be facing another 28 years in prison, stemming from violating the court-ordered terms.
“It’s obvious that you have a problem, and you need to address it,” said Talley. “All I can do is order it. It’s up to you to follow it.”