Everyday People - Jessica Johnson

Jessica Johnson in 2015.

A former city of Bozeman employee was sentenced Friday to a three-year deferred sentence and 40 hours of community service for embezzling from the city and the Downtown Bozeman Partnership.

As part of a plea agreement, Jessica Johnson was also required to pay $4,095 to the city and $2,005 to the downtown association for two separate charges of embezzlement, both felonies. Johnson paid the full amount to both organizations before the sentencing. The convictions could be removed from her record once she completes her sentence.

Johnson pleaded guilty in May to the two counts of theft by embezzlement. She appeared in Gallatin County District Court Friday before Judge John Brown.

As part of a plea agreement, prosecutor Bradley Bowen argued Johnson be sentenced to a three-year unsupervised suspended sentence and 40 hours of community service. A suspended sentence would have stuck the felonies to her criminal history, whereas a deferred sentence could wipe the convictions after Johnson completes her sentence.

Bowen recommended Judge Brown follow the plea agreement because the offenses were associated with being in a position of trust. Bowen noted that Johnson repaid the restitution amounts requested in the plea agreement, but said it was important for her record to reflect the crimes she committed.

“Bozeman trust is priceless. Miss Johnson deserves to pay restitution but she will never be able to pay back what the city truly lost,” Bowen said.

Elisabeth Montoya, Johnson’s attorney, argued for a deferred sentence because Johnson had no prior criminal history.

Montoya said she understood Bowen’s concern to give public notice of Johnson’s past behavior but argued that there has been considerable amount of news coverage of the cases.

“I think no matter what Miss Johnson tries to do, regarding whether she’s a convicted felon or not, this isn’t going away for her,” Montoya said.

During the hearing, Johnson apologized to the city and the downtown association for the stress, additional work and hardship the incident put on the two organizations. She said she understood and acknowledged that she violated their trust.

Since moving to Mississippi about a year ago, Johnson said, she’s received a new diagnosis from a psychiatrist and has removed herself from all toxic relationships. She said she’s made continuous efforts to improve herself.

“I want an opportunity to move on with my life as an honest, positive, contributing citizen,” Johnson said.

Before imposing his sentence, Judge Brown said he understood Johnson’s circumstances, the value of a deferred sentence and why Bowen wanted the felonies on her record. He said he thought that would be too harsh given the amount she embezzled.

However, Brown said he wasn’t excusing her behavior by giving her a deferred sentence and that it was a terrible thing to betray the trust of an employer.

“It wasn’t just money you embezzled from the city of Bozeman — in effect, you embezzled money from me because I’m a resident and those are public funds,” Brown said.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2630. Follow him on Twitter @TGIFreddy.

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