Former DeSoto DA's office clerk pleads guilty to stealing funds

Former DeSoto DA's office clerk faces up to 20 years in jail

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - A former clerk with the DeSoto district attorney's office faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud.

The plea Thursday is connected a 10-year scheme to steal thousands of dollars in public money from the district attorney's office.

Melanie Barber, 36, of Converse, was charged Oct. 25 with seven counts of mail fraud.

A plea arrangement with Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael O'Mara reduced the counts against Barber to one.

Barber stole cashier's checks and money orders intended for worthless checks and pretrial diversion programs in the district attorney's office and cashed the stolen instruments for her use.

Now she faces the possibility of 20 years in prison and restitution and fines of up to $150,000.

Barber was arrested on state charges in February 2014 following an investigation by Mansfield police.

Richard Johnson, who at the time was DeSoto's district attorney, recused himself from prosecuting Barber.

The matter eventually landed in the Louisiana attorney general's office.

The case drew more scrutiny in 2015 following an investigative audit by the Louisiana legislative auditor's office.

A report about that inquiry claims Barber made off with 580 money orders and cashier's checks intended for the DeSoto district attorney's office.

She allegedly cashed more than $136,000 worth at local banks, retailers and the Desoto Sheriff's Office.

The audit says 206 money orders totaling $49,733 were cashed at the Sheriff's Office.

With Attorney General Jeff Landry's office and that of his predecessor, Buddy Caldwell, failing to move forward, federal law enforcement took the case over.

Almost three years after her initial arrest, a federal grand jury indicted Barber in Shreveport.

During a plea bargain hearing before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote, the court accepted as true the basic facts laid out by the Mansfield police investigation and the legislative audit.

In court, Barber admitted to taking and cashing the checks and money orders from the district attorney's office but disputed the total amount of money stolen.

The mail fraud count Barber pleaded guilty to Thursday deals with a $500 money order offered by a traffic diversion defendant living in Texas. Barber convinced a Sheriff's Office employee to cash the money order and turn the funds over to her.

Outside the federal court building after the hearing, Barber, her attorney and the Mansfield police lieutenant who spearheaded the original investigation refused to comment.

Barber is free on $25,000 bond.

She is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. July 2 in U.S. District Court in Shreveport.

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