Former Ark. lawmaker, chamber director sentenced to prison over theft

Another woman sent to jail for stealing from a parent-teacher organization

2 report to jail, 1 for stealing from PTO, the other for taking money from chamber of commerce

ASHDOWN, Ark. (KSLA) - A former Southwest Arkansas lawmaker reported to prison Tuesday evening.

Fonda Faye Hawthorne, 62, of Ashdown, Ark., was sentenced earlier that day to serve four months in jail then five years on probation.

Hawthorne was arrested in early 2018 on a charge of theft of property valued at more than $5,000 but less than $25,000, court records show.

She was accused of embezzling money from the Ashdown-Little River County Chamber of Commerce during the period Nov. 19, 2013, through Jan. 16, 2018, while serving as the business organization’s executive director.

The theft charge is a Class C felony punishable by 3-10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, court records show.

A debit card on the Chamber of Commerce’s bank account was issued in Hawthorne’s name Nov. 29, 2013, and was reissued Oct. 15, 2016, according to the arrest affidavit.

That card was used at liquor and tobacco stores.

And $16,931.68 was unaccounted for as of Jan. 16, 2018, but chamber officials expected that figure to rise as they continued to go through the organization’s bank statements, the affidavit shows.

Hawthorne told the court Tuesday that she committed the thefts because of a drinking problem.

She also said that, since her arrest, she has been to rehab and has made restitution to the chamber for the stolen money.

"When asked why she needed to take this money when she was not in any financial difficulty, it was for the alcohol. ‘I drink expensively,’ which was a little disettleling,” said Brian Cheshir, Little River prosecuting attorney.

Hawthorne represented District 4, which includes Little River County, in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2013-15.

Also Tuesday, the court sentenced Kylie Huddleston to six years in prison with three years suspended in a different theft case.

She pleaded guilty to stealing just more than $26,000 from the Parents Teachers Organization in Ashdown while serving as its president.

Prosecutors said Kylie made personal purchases with a PTO debit card more than 240 times.

The stolen funds were to have been used for playground equipment at Ashdown Elementary School.

She, too, reported to prison Tuesday evening.

“We could never reach a plea agreement in either case because we requested pen time in both cases,” Cheshir said of Hawthorne’s and Huddleston’s cases.

"Was justice done? Some would agree and some won’t. I hate to second guess a judge who sat there and listened to all the evidence in both cases.”

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