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Winning slogan: Restitution -- It's not prison

Be careful what you wish for. No matter how long, probation is still a leash.

Payback, as they say, is, well, no day at the beach.

Consider the case of Greg Wade, former president of the Philadelphia Home and School Council, who pleaded guilty in May 2009 to forging 145 checks drawn on the council's account and using $138,000 for such personal expenses as a 2009 Dodge Journey SUV.

When he was sentenced, Wade, 55, got what many in his position would consider a major break: 11-1/2 to 23 months of house arrest at his home in the Northeast followed by 54 months of probation. The only condition was that Wade repays the council $118,367 – money that was supposed to have been used for $500 scholarships for 30 public school students.

Easier said than done, especially for a 55-year-old man who had not worked in several years and who is now a convicted felon. So in January, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Joan A. Brown came up with an alternative – prison – after Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Liermann said Wade had paid a grand total of $155 during his first 16 months of probation.

Wade chose work, and when he reappeared before Brown last Thursday, prosecutor Liermann had good news: Wade made timely payments of $200 at the end of March and April. Just 589 months to go, assuming Wade works until age 104.

Liermann was not pleased, noting that Wade was working just 30 to 35 hours a week in maintenance at a South Philadelphia supermarket. Liermann agreed to waive all collection costs and fees so Wade's total restitution could go to the Home and School Council.

"He's supposed to be working 40 hours a week," Liermann told the judge. "He has to get a second job."

Wade maintained that he was hopeful. He said his hours were cut for a while but that he was now a member of the employees union and expected things to pick up soon.

The judge was sympathetic and congratulated Wade for making two monthly payments. But the hammer stays in place: Wade will be back Sept. 15 to give the judge another update.