After half a day of wrap-up and closing arguments, a jury found a former Assembly candidate guilty of two felonies related to Permanent Dividend Fraud.
Following the verdict, Loretto Lee Jones, 65, declined to comment.
The jury announced the verdict — guilty on one count of unsworn falsification and one count of theft, both felonies — after a short, three-day trial at the Juneau Superior Court in downtown Juneau.
The charges stemmed from Jones’ 2016 PFD application, which prosecutors said was knowingly falsified as Jones had resided outside of the state for more than 180 days in 2015.
The amount Jones was accused of stealing was $1,022. Falsification of PFD applications is a felony punishable by jail time or a fine of up to $3,000, amongst other penalties, according to the Department of Revenue.
“She was gone all of January: 31 days,” said Lisa Kelley, assistant attorney general representing the state. “She was gone all of September, she was gone all of October. Twice in 2015, Ms. Jones was absent from Alaska for more than 90 days and failed to disclose that on her PFD application.”
In her closing argument, Kelley tried to convince the jury that Jones had knowingly falsified her application and had thus stolen the money that came in her PFD.
But the defense argued that things weren’t so simple. Defense attorney Deborah Macaulay of the Alaska Public Defender’s Agency spent much of the morning asking Jones about her time outside of the state. Jones was indeed gone for long periods of time, Macaulay said, but there are allowable absences under certain PFD requirements.
Jones had worked at a number of jobs which took her out of the state, but her primary residence was still Juneau. Of particular focus during Friday’s examination of Jones on the witness stand was her role as an ad-hoc safety instructor for the U.S. Coast Guard. That “gig” as it was repeatedly described, took Jones to Astoria, Oregon, for several months at a time.
The complication arose for Jones when she reported her absences which occurred in 2015 on her 2015 application. But those should have been reported on the 2016 application. The defense argued that this was all the result of a simple mistake on the part of Jones.
On Thursday, Bobbi Scherrer, the PFD division appeals manager, testified about how the PFD application system actually works. Even he, Macaulay said, mixed up some of the finer details of the application process.
“The PFD experts testified and mixed up some of the requirements of the PFD,” Macaulay said to the jury in her closing remarks. “Ms. Jones makes the same mistake and we’re in court.”
Additionally, the defense said, when Jones became aware she was under investigation by the Alaska Department of Revenue, she approached the department hoping to clear up the mistake.
At the time she was charged, Jones was running for a seat on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, a race she ultimately lost to now Senator Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau.
But after roughly two hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty on both counts.
Jones’ sentencing will take place in February.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.