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Gail Povaleri, a 24-year Bartholomew County court reporter who resigned last fall, has been arrested by the Sheriff’s Department and charged with five counts of theft from a county government account.
Povaleri, 63, was accused in a bill of information filed by Prosecutor Bill Nash of submitting false claims that led to her being paid nearly $4,000 for transcripts of criminal hearings in Superior Court I that she never typed or submitted to Indiana appellate courts as required.
The missing transcripts involved appeals or requests for post-conviction reviews by a half-dozen defendants in cases dating as far back as 1998. The most recent instances of Povaleri being paid for work that was never done occurred between 2009 and 2011, the bill of information filed in Circuit Court said.
Povaleri was a fixture around the courthouse until she resigned Aug. 30, 2012. She worked more than two decades for former Superior Court I Judge Chris Monroe, who lost a re-election bid last year and now is in private practice.
“The first thing I told (Povaleri’s attorney) after filing the charges was that this gives me no pleasure,” Nash said.
Povaleri and her attorney, Dennis Stark of Columbus, declined to discuss the felony charges when contacted Thursday. Povaleri was booked in to the Bartholomew County Jail on Wednesday evening and released on a $2,500 cash bond within an hour.
The case also raises questions about how diligently and quickly Povaleri’s direct employer, former Judge Monroe, looked into allegations against his longtime court reporter after being told of possible improprieties by another court staffer about 18 months ago.
According to an affidavit filed in court from Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Abner, civil court reporter Teresa Million said she went directly to Monroe in March 2012 with information about missing transcripts and possible improper payments to Povaleri, and the judge took no immediate action.
Monroe told Million that “he was too busy to deal with the situation at the time because he was running for re-election in a May 2012 primary,” Abner’s affidavit states.
In each case, Million found Povaleri had submitted requests for payment to the Bartholomew County auditor claiming that she had done a transcript and should be paid. Abner’s affidavit also says Povaleri used a signature stamp to put a facsimile of Judge Monroe’s signature on paperwork she reportedly used to get the payments.
“Judge Monroe also told Teresa to stop looking for any other suspicious claims,” the detective’s sworn statement went on to say, “and he told her that she was not to discuss what she had found with anyone outside the Superior Court I office.”
When asked about those comments Thursday, Monroe denied he told Million to stop searching for other suspicious activity.
But in late August of last year, Monroe said he demanded Povaleri produce three missing transcripts that he had been told about. The ex-judge said Povaleri didn’t produce the transcripts and instead turned in a letter of resignation and left the courthouse.
“I confronted her. She quit,” Monroe said.
Monroe said he didn’t tell law enforcement officials about the situation. Instead, he wrote a letter to Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman last fall, outlining his belief that his longtime secretary and court reporter had been paid for work she may not have actually completed.
“I took multiple steps along the way. It wasn’t clear until late in the process that this might be criminal,” Monroe said Thursday. “You need to be careful what you say about something like this. You don’t want to accuse a person of something that isn’t supportable.”
Court reporters in the county court system get extra pay for typing transcripts related to appeals, earning as much as $4 per page.
The court reporters often do the work at home after normal working hours, and Nash said Povaleri did all the criminal case transcripts for Judge Monroe at the time.
The largest payment to Povaleri now in question is a check for $1,570 that was paid Oct. 14, 2009, court documents say. In all, Povaleri collected $3,971.60 that she didn’t deserve, the theft charges say.
Judge Worton speaks up
The theft case against Povaleri wasn’t mentioned to the county prosecutor’s office until late January this year after newly elected Judge James Worton first learned of it, court filings show.
Million and another courthouse colleague agreed they should tell Worton about the missing transcripts right after he took office, and they did so Jan. 23, Abner’s affidavit said. Worton, who defeated Monroe in the 2012 primary, took office on Jan. 1.
Not long after, Worton informed Nash of the situation, and the new judge contacted the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission for guidance, court filings say. A Sheriff’s Department investigation started in July.
Povaleri faces five separate counts of Class D felony theft. Each count carries a potential jail sentence of six months to three years and fines up to $10,000.
Defendants in the handful of criminal cases with the missing transcripts had their appeals dismissed with prejudice after the court transcripts never turned up — meaning they lost the right to contest the issue.
Monroe said defense attorneys in each case, or the convicted defendants themselves, had the right to file motions “to compel” Superior Court I to produce the missing transcripts after a 60-day waiting period, but none of them ever took that step.
Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett said he finds the Povaleri case unsettling.
“This is the most disturbing case we’ve ever had to investigate that involves the criminal justice system,” the sheriff said. “It’s exceptionally disturbing when you look at how long it took to get this case into an investigative mode.”
Gorbett said the Povaleri investigation is ongoing.
Monroe said some of the wording in the criminal affidavit outlining the charges against Povaleri makes it seem as if he did something improper.
“It doesn’t surprise me, with Mr. Nash’s personal dislike of me,” Monroe said, referring to the prosecuting attorney.
Monroe said it’s a matter of public record that Nash supported Worton in last year’s judicial election, in which Worton got 54 percent of the vote.
Nash declined to respond to Monroe’s comments.
Republic reporter Mark Webber contributed to this story.
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