A Kentucky bank teller who stole more than $32,000 has been sentenced to two years and eight months in federal prison.
Jamie L. Hightower paid $32,800 in restitution to cover the thefts before she was sentenced last week in federal court in Lexington, according to court records.
Hightower pleaded guilty to one charge of bank fraud and one charge of aggravated identify theft.
The thefts took place over a four-month period in 2019 when Hightower was the head teller and vault teller at Community Trust Bank in Mount Sterling, according to court records.
Hightower began taking money soon after becoming the head teller at a bank branch and her misconduct became “increasingly brazen” in short order, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tashena A. Fannin said in a sentencing memorandum.
Court records cite a number of methods Hightower used, including altering a paper check from a business customer to pocket $4,000 and shifting funds to cover the theft; forging a customer’s name to a check to take $6,000 from his account; and taking $2,000 from another teller at the bank under the guise of putting it in the vault.
On Aug. 15, 2019, Hightower took a total of $10,000 in cash from Federal Reserve and armored-car shipments and the vault, then took $10,000 from a customer’s account the next day and made up a story that the customer had authorized the withdrawal and got the money, according to the court record.
The indictment charged that Hightower created false entries in records and used multiple teller drawers to hide the thefts.
Hightower also initially lied and blamed customers and coworkers in an effort to evade detection, according to the sentencing memorandum.
The prosecutor acknowledged that Hightower had repaid the money, calling that “a welcome and rare deed.”
The restitution will go the bank, which repaid people who lost money.
Defense attorneys said the thefts happened during a very difficult year for Hightower, which included a move for her family, a decision to homeschool her two children after one was bullied in public school, and a terminal cancer diagnosis for her mother.
“In truth, Jamie herself does not know or cannot explain exactly why she committed these acts,” her defense attorneys wrote. “However, it seems clear that something within Jamie, historically a law-abiding and upright person, gave way in response to the combination of external pressures she faced at that time.”
U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell sentenced Hightower on May 9.