GREEN RIVER — Candace Rachelle Morris has been sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in the Wyoming Women’s Center after pleading guilty to three counts of theft from the Young at Heart Community Center (YAH) over a period of four years.
Morris, 46, of Green River, was arrested in September following an investigation into the diversion of funds from the YAH Early Learning Center (ELC) into a fake limited liability company she created while serving as Executive Director.
An argued sentencing took place today after Morris entered into a plea agreement in Third District Court back in December. She pled guilty to three counts and was sentenced on one count with the other two counts being suspended in exchange for 10 years of supervised probation.
Testimony was given today before Judge Suzannah Robinson that implicated Morris in a plan involving the fake LLC and use of a tuition application linked to a bank account that was not authorized by the YAH Board of Directors.
Tuition Express is an application that allowed parents to put their credit cards or bank accounts on file with the ELC which were then charged monthly for their children’s educational costs.
A number of state’s witnesses testified that YAH first became aware of the situation when an insurance premium for a van used by the ELC was being paid on a monthly basis rather than in full for the entire year.
Current ELC Director Breanna Romero was the assistant director at the time and testified today that ELC used a Bank of America account which was linked to the Tuition Express program for deposits.
However, board member Suzette Williams and YAH bookkeeper Misty Wilson both testified they had no knowledge of that account which essentially began the investigation into Morris’ activities.
Wilson said she knew Morris since they were 12 years old. She witnessed a dramatic changed in Morris’s lifestyle when returning to Wyoming after living in Nevada for about six years.
“It was like somebody won the lottery,” Wilson said.
She specifically pointed to upgrades in vehicles and the home Morris was living in with her family in Green River. Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Hall testified that during her investigation she discovered that the Morrises had paid off their mortgage nearly 17 years before the note was due.
A building permit also shows that they spend about $83,000 in renovations to the home.
Shortly after the YAH complaint was filed in July 2022, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office executed a Writ of Attachment to seize property owned by Candace and William Morris.
Sweetwater County Undersheriff Joseph Tomich said today that the department seized three vehicles that William Morris had recently sold to Fremont Motors in Rock Springs in the amount of $144,000.
He told the department that he had sold back the vehicles because he and his wife were getting a divorce, Tomich said.
Hall also said that the investigation led to discovering that Candace Morris fraudulently applied for and received $417,000 in CARES Act funding.
Records obtained through the Wyoming Business Council website shows she applied for the relief money using the fake LLC and received checks three different times in 2020. Morris paid back roughly $114,000 of that money in December of 2020.
Hall told the court that the amount of money stolen or fraudulently obtained by Morris through the fake LLC and CARES Act between 2018 and 2022 totaled $2.6 million.
Deputy County Attorney Hillary McKinney argued in closing remarks that the overwhelming amount of evidence against Morris indicates she knew exactly what she was doing with very little remorse for her crimes.
Defense attorney Inga Parsons said her client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder rooted in a number of sexual assaults she endured as a child. She said these assaults led to Morris’s actions and that she takes full responsibility, knows she has an addiction, and intends to make the victims whole.
McKinney outlined the clinical definitions and studies on kleptomania and said Morris does not fit that criteria. The length of time Morris carried out the crimes and flaunting her wealth was further evidence that she had little remorse for what she did, McKinney added.
“This is the difference between I’m sorry that I got caught, and I’m sorry for what I did,” she said.
Parsons asked for intense community supervision rather than prison based on Morris’s value and connection to the community, the outpouring of community support she’s received since her arrest, and her ability to start making restitution to all the victims.
A pre-sentence investigation report recommended that Morris receive probation, and she has no criminal history. She also expressed a great deal of remorse during her opportunity to speak in court today.
However, Robinson said this case has affected a very large part of the community, and there are many aggravating factors in these crimes. She said this is close to the most amount of money ever stolen in Sweetwater County.
Those factors resulted in Robinson not granting Morris probation, but she also reduced the amount of prison time requested by the County Attorney’s office. The state sought 22-28 years for her crimes in total.
Morris was then sentenced to 8-10 years on the first count and 4-6 years for both counts 4 and 5. Counts 2, 3 and 6 were all dismissed.
Counts 4 and 5 received sentenced of 4-6 years each and will run consecutive to count 1. However, the suspension of those sentences means Morris will be placed on 10 years of supervised probation once she is released from prison.
She was also ordered to pay $2,437,112 in restitution and given credit for 154 days of time served.