Small-town Iowa clerk must repay stolen $86,000, court rules

A former civil servant has been ordered to pay back more than $86,000 she wrongfully took from the small town of Promise City in southern Iowa, a sum that amounts to nearly $800 per capita.

Debra Eccleston, former clerk of Promise City, 55, was charged with first degree robbery and false in December. In April, she pleaded guilty to both counts, and on June 21, she was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay the city $86,512.65 in restitution.

A separate 10-year sentence was suspended.

Eccleston’s attorney, Nick Bailey, declined to comment.

Previously:State audit finds former Promise City employee wrongly spent nearly $57,000 and paid herself double what she was owed

Eccleston was arrested shortly after the Iowa State auditor found she had inflated her salary and used city funds for personal purchases and bills. The thefts took place between February 2012 and July 2020, when she worked as a part-time clerk for the Wayne County community of approximately 110 residents.

City officials found evidence of funds misappropriated after his resignation, leading to the state audit. The report revealed that Eccleston had paid herself nearly $27,000 for her work, instead of the $13,483 she was owed; paid personal and work grocery, internet, and credit card bills with city money; and made over $17,000 in unauthorized Walmart purchases, including pet supplies, books and food. Eccleston was also part operator of a coffee shop and bookstore in Centerville.

Eccleston allegedly ignored requests from the auditor’s office for documentation to support questionable expenses. Auditor Rob Sand told the Des Moines Register in December that it appeared city officials were providing limited oversight of Eccleston’s work.

“Promise City is a small town. In a lot of small towns, the checks and balances are a bit complicated because there are only a limited number of people and, on top of that, a limited number of people involved,” said Sand. “So that’s not an excuse but it makes the opportunities a little bit easier for those who are willing to do this kind of thing.”

After:Todd Halbur narrowly wins Republican primary for state auditor, setting up race with incumbent

The auditor’s report counted nearly $57,000 in misappropriated funds, and Eccleston asked the court to reduce the current restitution order. In a July 6 motion, her attorney argued that the $86,512 figure includes unpaid taxes and penalties and other debts not directly related to the forgery and theft to which she pleaded guilty.

Court records show Eccleston also filed a notice of appeal.

William Morris covers the courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at [email protected]715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.

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