A former TD Bank teller was sentenced in federal court in Camden on Thursday to 33 months in prison for stealing $600,000, and at times it was difficult to tell whether who was more apologetic: the accused for her crimes, or the judge for having to sentence her.
The "horrific" childhood of Telisha Trent, a 43-year-old mother of four from Williamstown, gave pause to U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb. Although the judge referred to details contained in a presentencing report, she did not disclose them in open court.
"You stand before me asking for forgiveness and leniency for what you have done," the judge said to Trent. "People should be apologizing to you for what they have done to you."
Trent wept, as did relatives and friends who were in the courtroom to support her.
Bumb asked Trent's former husband to deliver a message from her to Trent's children: "Tell them they have a very, very good mother who made some bad decisions."
Trent had tearfully apologized for the thefts she committed while working in the bank's Sewell branch.
Her life had spiraled out of control while she went through a divorce, losing her sister and a business, Trent said. She was twice arrested - once in a domestic incident involving her ex-husband, and another time for drunken driving.
On Thursday, besides the prison term, she was sentenced to five years of supervised release for pillaging dormant bank accounts, most of which belonged to elderly depositors, between Aug. 9, 2014, and Sept. 11, 2015.
At first, she used the money to pay legal costs, her attorney said. She also bought two used BMWs, paid for home renovations, and spent some of the money on vacations, including a trip to Walt Disney World.
"I am truly sorry," said Trent, who is being treated for mental illness that her attorney said was related to her actions. "My behavior is indefensible, and it is something I will regret for the rest of my life."
In sentencing Trent to prison, Bumb urged the mother of 10-year-old twins and two grown children to use her time behind bars as an opportunity to improve her life.
"The most important thing for you in moving forward in your life is to forgive yourself," Bumb said. The judge expressed conflicted feelings about having to take Trent away from the twins, now living with their father, while also needing to punish her for violating the public trust that came with her job as teller.
R. Stephen Stigall, U.S. attorney in charge of Camden, told the judge he understood the "truly difficult task" she had in sentencing, but requested that Bumb stay within the recommended guidelines of 46 to 57 months.
Stigall spoke of the victims who made deposits expecting their money to remain safely in the bank. He also pointed out that the crimes were carried out over a year, with much of the money spent on a "luxurious" lifestyle.
The judge agreed that the crimes were serious and punishment was warranted.
The judge said she was struck that despite Trent's troubled childhood, she had turned around and opened a day care center, "giving love to so many children." The judge wondered whether Trent was trying to create for those children the childhood she never had.
Given the choice, Bumb said, Trent likely would choose five years in jail rather than relive the first 20 years of her life.
Before the sentencing, the judge asked Trent's ex-husband, Eric Walden, to discuss how he would care for the children on his own. Walden told Bumb the younger children, a boy and a girl, understand their mother needs help. He said he has a strong family to help him.
Trent told the judge she explained to her children that she may have to go away to get better, and when she told her daughter she had done something bad, her daughter had responded: "Mom, there's nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you."
While at first glance, the thefts appeared to be crimes of greed, the judge, Stigall, and Trent's attorney, James Conley, all acknowledged the case was more complex.
Although Trent was receiving treatment for bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders, her world collapsed after she stopped taking her medication, her attorney said.
Bumb said that as soon as Trent was caught, she admitted her crimes to her employer, turned over her keys to the bank, and took full responsibility. In August, she pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering.
The bank has reimbursed the victims. Trent was ordered to make restitution of $608,483 to the bank, and to cover investigative costs. Trent will remain free so she can spend the holidays with her family, but must surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 4.
Had she not cooperated, Trent could have faced 30 years in prison.
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