Sioux Falls, SD
The Sioux Falls therapist and bookkeeper accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars from the Family Institute of the Midwest is a free woman.
Friday afternoon Judge Kathleen Caldwell acquitted Tammy Lias of one count of grand theft.
Lias was accused of taking more than $70,000 when she worked at the Family Institute of the Midwest, which specializes in marriage and family counseling.
The documents submitted to the court to prove the embezzlement were put together by the executive director of the nonprofit organization and her husband and a full forensic audit was never done.
In her ruling Friday afternoon, Judge Caldwell said there was never any evidence that Lias intended to take the money but was simply a therapist who was trying to do the bookkeeping and was in over her head.
"This isn't a rah rah moment. This isn't a hooray moment. This is just a moment of grace and justice and this is done, and for that I am so thankful," Lias' defense attorney Scott Hoy said after court.
Lias' attorneys successfully argued for acquittal because they said a reliable accounting was never done for the Family Institute of the Midwest.
They also said Lias, a therapist turned bookkeeper, may have mismanaged the finances but never intentionally stole the money.
Judge Caldwell agreed saying in court that several witnesses involved with the Family Institute of the Midwest testified during the two-day trial that Lias apologized several times and at one point offered to pay the money back.
"The intent has to be shown very strongly to be beyond a reasonable doubt and that is especially where this was lacking," Hoy said.
Family Institute Executive Director J. Carol Carlsen says even though Lias was acquitted she says Lias' personal credit cards were being paid from the company's account and still believes she was stealing money.
"She absolutely took money that was not hers and we will be pursuing it in the civil trial," Carlsen said.
Carlsen said that they never had a full forensic audit done because the Family Institute couldn't afford one and the state does not pay for forensic audits in criminal prosecution.
Carlsen feels like she's been victimized twice.
"We were victimized when she did all these things and we feel victimized again today by justice not prevailing," Carlsen said.
But Lias and her defense attorneys believe justice did prevail.
"Justice was done today and now it's time to move on to peace," Hoy said.