Former city clerk gets prison time

·2 min read

Jul. 1—PROMISE CITY — A former city clerk was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to allegations that she stole more than $56,000 from a small Iowa town she worked for. She has appealed.

Judge Dustria Relph sentenced 55-year-old Debra Lynn Eccleston to five years of prison, and another 10 years of suspended prison, on June 21. Eccleston has filed a notice of appeal and remains out on bond.

The sentence comes after she pled guilty to charges of first-degree theft, a class C felony, and forgery, a class D felony.

A 173-page report released late last year from the Iowa State Auditor's Office detailed $56,549.07 in improper disbursements, with another $2,172.72 in disbursements not supported by documentation.

The report, resulting from a special investigation into Promise City's finances, quickly led to prosecutors filing charges against Eccleston, who oversaw the town's books as a city clerk. The investigation was requested by city officials.

The auditor's report states improper disbursements included $13,211.59 of unauthorized payroll amounts to Eccleston and another city employee, and another $11,761.99 of unauthorized reimbursements to Eccleston.

There were also $17,067.69 in Walmart purchases by Eccleston considered personal, and $9,665.19 to Alliant Energy for Eccleston's personal accounts.

Some of the disbursements appeared to benefit a business run by Eccleston's partner called Look, Buy & Enjoy, which does business as The Hungry Cow at the Book Barn in Centerville.

In addition to the five-year prison sentence, and 10-year suspended prison sentence, Eccleston was also ordered to pay $86,512.65 in restitution to the City of Promise City. That amount includes the improper disbursements, but also nearly $30,000 for the cost of the special investigation by the auditor's office, which was charged to the city.

Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, has campaigned on harsher sentencing for those convicted of stealing taxpayer money. This past legislative session, he introduced a bill that would promote prison sentences for employees stealing more than $10,000 from public employers. The bill did not advance in the session.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.