AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Decatur VA worker stole money under nose of police chief

She worked for the police, but that didn't stop her from dipping into the till. Zerry Feaster treated herself to prepaid gift cards, buying them the government purchase card she was supposed to use for supplies and equipment for uniformed officers at the VA Medical Center in Decatur.

She got away with it for two years, all told converting more than $88,000 into gift cards and other questionable purchases before she was nabbed, court documents show. But Feaster, secretary to the Chief of Police Services at the VA, was only charged with seven counts of theft of public money, totaling $2,300. She pleaded guilty to those charges and drew a 13-month prison sentence.

This week, her latest ploy got struck down by 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. No matter the sum of money involved in all seven counts, she argued that they should actually be deemed misdemeanors because each involved the theft of less than $1,000.

Trouble is, the court wrote, the plain language of the law under which she was convicted says that a person who embezzles, steals, purloins or converts U.S. property is generally guilty of a felony. The only exception is if all the counts add up to a theft of $1,000 or less.

Her sentence stands. And after she serves it, Feaster is under orders to repay the $88,000.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.