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[UPDATE] Shanna Lewis Heads to Prison

UPDATED 1.19.2011 5:45pm by Julie Montanaro

A bookkeeper accused of embezzling more than half a million dollars from Innovation Park is now doing time for it.

Shanna Lewis reported to prison this afternoon and the research park is still trying to pick up the pieces of its reputation.

Shanna Lewis will spend the next eight and a half years in a federal prison for embezzlement and fraud.

The soft spoken wife and mother of three siphoned nearly 650-thousand dollars from accounts at Innovation Park while working as a bookkeeper there.

"The impact of the theft in general was substantial, obviously. We lost a tremendous amount of money, but it also exposed a lot of problems that we had in the management of the park and the operations," said Leon County Commissioner and Innovation Park Board Member Kristin Dozier. "It really did cause a lot of problems, but it's going to help us move forward in a better, a much better condition, I think."

Perhaps the most jaw dropping revelation of all: Lewis had a prior embezzlement conviction on her record when she was hired to keep the books at Innovation Park.

The park's executive director retired soon after the scandal broke and a new director, Catherine Kunst, now has the task of trying to recruit new high-tech tenants and rehab the park's reputation.

She had no comment on the start of Lewis' prison stint, but the chairman of the board sure did.

"We've taken a number of steps to assure that things like this don't happen again," said Phil Blank, chairman of the Leon County Research and Development Authority.

Blank stood up in court during Lewis's sentencing and told the judge that Lewis lived a lavish lifestyle at taxpayer's expense.

Lewis will now be wearing prison blues, shopping at the camp commissary and will be prohibited from spending more than 290 dollars a month.

"I wish her all the best and I hope she takes this time to reflect on what she did," Blank said.

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman says Lewis was booked into the Marianna Prison Camp at 12:30 today.

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UPDATED 1-19-2011 2:30pm by Julie Montanaro

A Bureau of Prisons spokesman says Shanna Lewis was booked into the prison camp in Marianna at 12:31 today.

The federal prison is about an hour west of Tallahassee.

The Bureau of Prisons Handbook for the facility indicates Lewis will get a wake up call at 6am each day, report for work Monday through Friday and stand for at least five official inmate counts a day.
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UPDATED 1-19 Noon --

The former Innovation Park bookkeeper is set to report to prison this afternoon.

Shanna Lewis pleaded guilty to embezzlement and fraud. She was sentenced in November and now after spending the holidays with her family, it is time to surrender to U.S. Marshals.

Lewis has until 2 p.m. today to turn herself in to begin serving an 8 and 1/2 year prison sentence.

Lewis embezzled about $650,000 over a span of four years from accounts at Innovation Park.

Board members called the whole episode shocking and disappointing, but point out it also brought out a lot of problems to light at the research park ... namely a lack of checks and balances.

These are things that the new executive director is now working to fix.

It is our understanding that Lewis will be doing time at a medium security prison in Marianna, but a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson can't confirm that until she is actually booked in.

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UPDATED 1.18.2011 by Julie Montanaro

A former Innovation Park bookkeeper will report to prison tomorrow (January 19th) to begin serving her 8 and half year sentence.

Shanna Lewis pleaded guilty to embezzlement and fraud last fall and has until 2 o'clock tomorrow to report to prison.

Lewis was accused of embezzling nearly 650-thousand dollars from the research park over a span of four years.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman says she cannot release the name of the prison where Lewis will be doing time, until she is actually booked in to the facility.

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UPDATE 11-20-2010 11:15 am

Statement from Leon County Research and Development Authority and Innovation Park:

Leon County Research and Development Authority and Innovation Park
The Board of Governors of the Leon County Research and Development Authority welcomes the progress made toward a final resolution of this issue. We will continue to let this matter run its course through proper legal channels.

The Board remains committed to the core mission of the Authority: promoting scientific research and development activities, fostering economic development, and broadening the economic base of Leon County. We are focusing our primary efforts on creating a world-class facility.

The Authority is well funded and has the resources it needs to meet its financial obligations; the Board has implemented a number of internal controls, including new policies and procedures to protect our assets.
We are also committed to increasing collaboration with our local universities and making sure Innovation Park – the State of Florida’s first and oldest research park – is positioned to play a vital role in the research and development sector of this community and to serve as an economic development engine for Leon County.
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UPDATE 11-19-2010 6:15 pm by Julie Montanaro

A bookeeper convicted of embezzling more than 645 thousand dollars from Innovation Park will soon be headed to federal prison.

Shanna Lewis apologized to Innovation Park and to all the family and friends she has disappointed but her tearful apology couldn't sway the judge from an 8 1/2 year sentence. She will also receive 5 years of supervised probation.

Lewis has also been ordered to pay $746,042 in restitution.

Judge Robert Hinkle says one thing he considered in sentencing is that Lewis had made 113 transactions and everytime she wrote a check she had the opportunity to stop and didn't.

Collin Cherry, Lewis' attorney, says, "The sentencing was fair. It considered her previous history. Cetainly the conduct she had was courageous. Judge Hinkle is probably one of the most well respected judges in North Florida and he considered all the factors and I think both sides left feeling that they've been heard. And that it was a fair sentence."

The most diffcult part of the hearing was that Lewis' husband and daughters, ages 5, 15 and 17, sat in the front row. All but the 5-year old wrote letters to the judge. Lewis' husband Paul called Shanna the core of our family and the glue that holds it all together. The daughter Summer said it will be quite some time before we can spend Christmas, Thanksgiving and even our birthdays together again. Her daughter Autumn said taking her mother away is like ripping a piece right out of my chest, it's unbearable.

The husband and 2 daughters testified in front of the judge today (11-19), but when the judge imposed his sentence he said no one gets a pass just because they're a parent.

The chairman of the Innovation Park board, Phil Blank, asked the judge for a severe sentence saying Lewis sole nearly 650-thousand dollars of taxpayer money and spent it on a lavish lifestyle. Blank says it will take Innovation Park a long time to recover from the damage Lewis has done.

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UPDATE 11-19-2010 4:12 PM
Shanna Lewis has been sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison followed by 5 years of supervised probation.

Lewis has also been ordered to pay $746,042 in restitution.

Judge Robert Hinkle says one thing he considered in sentencing is that Lewis had done 113 transactions and everytime she wrote a check she had the opportunity to stop and didn't.

Lewis is ordered to surrender herself for punishment on January 19.

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UPDATED 11.19.2010 5pm by Julie Montanaro

Shanna Lewis's sentencing is today, November 19th at 2pm. She arrived at the Tallahassee Federal Courthouse with her husband.

The prosecution is seeking 87-108 months of prison time for Lewis, while her attorneys are arguing that 51-63 months is more appropriate.

Lewis' husband, children, and friends wrote the judge letters asking for leniency. Lewis was described as being the core of her family.

Stay with WCTV.tv for updates.
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UPDATED 11.02.2010 5pm by Julie Montanaro

Shanna Lewis's sentencing hearing has been delayed until November 19th at 2pm.

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UPDATED 10.19.2010 2:52pm

The hearing set for 3:30pm today has been canceled. Federal prosecutors have agreed to let Lewis free until her sentencing as long as she abides by certain conditions, including not selling any of her belongings on eBay.

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UPDATED 10.19.2010 12:30pm by Julie Montanaro

Shanna Lewis is scheduled to appear in federal court in Tallahassee this afternoon at 3:30. A judge will consider a request from federal prosecutors to put Lewis back behind bars to await her sentencing on November 12th.

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UPDATE 10.14.2010 by Julie Montanaro

The feds want to revoke the bond of a book keeper who's admitted to embezzling nearly 650-thousand dollars from Innovation Park.

Shanna Lewis has already pleaded guilty to bank fraud and other charges and is set to be sentenced on November 12th.

She's free on bond, but the Assistant U.S. Attorney has just filed an emergency motion to revoke Lewis's bond.

Prosecutors contend Lewis made false and misleading statements when she filed for bankruptcy on September 29th.

Prosecutors say Lewis failed to disclose two previous bankruptcy filings.

Prosecutors say not only did Lewis fail to disclose lots of property in her September 29th filing, but they discovered she was selling at least six undeclared items on E-Bay under the seller's name "stuckup."

Prosecutors say that adds up to bankruptcy fraud and they have asked a judge to revoke her bond.

The defendant's "present efforts to cheat the victim and her other creditors establish her utter incorrigibility and unworthiness of the trust embodied in the order of release," Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Rhew Miller wrote.

Lewis's attorney says he was unaware of the bankruptcy filing, which was handled by another attorney, and is now carefully reviewing the situation.

A judge has not yet set a court date to hear from both sides.

We have learned that when U.S. Secret Service agents went to serve a search warrant at Lewis's home Wednesday, her husband was arrested.

Court papers say he repeatedly cursed officers on scene and refused their commands to stop before rushing into the home.

He has since posted bond on that misdemeanor obstruction charge.

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UPDATED 9.30.2010 3:20pm by Julie Montanaro

A woman who admitted to embezzling nearly 650-thousand dollars from Innovation Park has turned over her retirement account to help make restitution.

A petition filed today in federal court indicates Lewis has surrendered her retirement account, though her attorney says those funds are not subject to forfeiture or civil judgment.

Defense attorney Collin Cherry estimates the account's value at 25 to 35 thousand dollars and says while it's not a lot in comparison to what was taken, it is something.

Lewis's home, cars, boat and time share holdings have already been seized by the government, Cherry said, and her husband declared bankruptcy this week.

Lewis is set to be sentenced November12th. She could face up to 42 years in prison for bank fraud, cashing a forged check and identity theft.
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*** Update 12:15pm 9-6-2010 ***

Tom Barron, Chairman of the Leon County Research and Development Authority, has issued the following community press release regarding an update on Innovation Park.

Community and Organizational Leaders:

On behalf of the Leon County Research and Development Authority’s Board of Governors, I would like to provide you with an update on the status of Innovation Park.

As many of you know, the discovery and subsequent investigation of a sizeable and unfortunate embezzlement has preoccupied the Board and diverted the attention from the primary mission of the Authority.

Fortunately, the Authority – still well funded and financially viable – has the resources it needs to meet its financial obligations, and the Board has implemented a number of internal controls, including new policies and procedures to protect our assets. The accounting firm has completed its audit, and the Authority is pursuing recovery of the stolen monies – both through the legal process and insurance claims.

Our former executive director, Linda Nicholsen, retired on June 30. We are grateful for her devotion of a quarter century of service to the Authority and her guidance as the park evolved from one building and 35 employees to 50 public and private organizations with approximately 2,000 employees.

On an interim basis, Leon County government staff, through an interlocal agreement, is assisting and is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Authority through administrative, financial, legal, public information, and technical support functions. Additionally, the Authority hired a professional real estate services company to manage the park’s property.

Currently, an executive search committee with representatives from our three institutions of higher education is conducting a national search for a new executive director. We are seeking a leader who will make sure we are continually positioned to play a vital role in the research and development sector of this community, and who will continue growing Innovation Park – the State of Florida’s first and oldest research park – with a renewed commitment to promoting scientific research and development activities, fostering economic development, and broadening the economic base of Leon County.

In addition to implementing more internal controls, new policies and procedures, we have also begun the search for general counsel services and will be selecting an individual or firm immediately.

We are diligently working to chart a new direction for the Leon County Research and Development Authority and Innovation Park, while staying focused on increased collaboration with our local universities and making sure the park continues to serve as an economic development engine for this community.

While the unfortunate recent occurrences provided a very trying time for the Authority, this difficult situation has also presented the rare opportunity to take a closer look at a 25 year old organization, examine everything it does – big and small – and determine how we can recommit ourselves, our talents, and our resources in making the necessary changes that will result in a better organization and a more solid technology future for this region.

We will continue to communicate with our stakeholders and the community as we refocus our efforts on creating a world-class facility here in Leon County.

Should you have any questions for us, please feel free to contact Authority staff at (850) 575-0343, LCRDA@inn-park.com, or visit our website below for current updates and informational postings.

The full press release is attached above.

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*** Update 5:00pm 9-1-2010 ***
A former bookkeeper at Innovation Park has pleaded guilty in Tallahassee's federal court to bank fraud, cashing forged checks, and aggravated identity theft.
Shanna Lewis faces a mandatory sentence of two years and as much as 40 years in prison. Her sentencing has been scheduled for Friday November 12.
Lewis will remain free until her sentencing. Lewis had been accused of stealing nearly 650,000 dollars from Innovation Park during the last four years that she worked there.

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UPDATED 8.30.2010 by Julie Montanaro

A former bookkeeper at Innovation Park is expected to plead guilty in an embezzlement scandal later this week.

We broke that story on Friday. Now, Shanna Lewis is trying to have one of the other counts against her dismissed.

Lewis's attorney, Colin Cherry, says Lewis intends to take responsibility for embezzling nearly $650-thousand from Innovation Park, but claims she should not be charged with aggravated identity theft too.

Cherry filed a motion in federal court today to have that count dismissed. That could knock a mandatory two years off her prison sentence.

"The aggravated identity theft statute was never meant to cover mere forgery," Cherry wrote in his 18 page motion. He argues that Congress intended the 2004 statute to target those who impersonate others for their own financial benefit, not those who simply forge signatures on checks.

There is no word yet on whether the judge will rule on the request before Wednesday's scheduled plea hearing.

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Tallahassee, FL (AP) - Former Innovation Park Office Manager Shanna Lewis will enter a plea in court on Wednesday September 1, 2010.
Her attorney tells us she intends to take responsibility for her actions and enter a plea to bank fraud and cashing forged checks.
The attorney says they are going to argue against the aggravated identity theft charge.
Lewis is accused of stealing nearly 650,000 dollars from Innovation Park during the last four years that she worked there.


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