Housekeeper found not guilty on theft charge

ESCANABA – A housekeeper who was fired for and accused of altering her paycheck by $2,000 was found not guilty at the conclusion of her two-day jury trial in Delta County Circuit Court on Thursday.

Donna Mae Smith, 58, was being tried for uttering and publishing, a 14-year felony. The charge stems from a $2,957.96 check written out to her in 2012 by the late John Besse of Gladstone. Smith was the Besse family housekeeper for 13 years.

The Delta County Sheriff’s Department began an investigation into Smith after receiving a complaint from John Besse’s wife, Patricia Besse, that the deposited check dated Dec. 18, 2012 had been altered to $4,957.96.

Smith was later arrested on Feb. 19, 2014, on two counts of uttering and publishing. She was released from police custody after posting a $5,000 bond the same day. One count was bound over to circuit court on March 7, 2014.

Smith took the stand on Wednesday and told the court she did not alter the check and did not know there was anything wrong with the check when she deposited it to her business account.

During closing remarks Thursday, Smith’s attorney, John Bergman, said Patricia Besse had told the widowed John Besse she would not marry him unless Smith was fired. The couple married in March 2012. Patricia Besse fired Smith in December 2012 following the allegation.

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Bergman said Patricia Besse wanted Smith gone. When Patricia Besse questioned Smith on the phone, Smith reviewed her deposit slip and said there was a mistake on the check amount; Patricia Besse said she had already turned it over to the law, the attorney said. Police were notified of the matter afterwards, he noted.

Bergman asked the jury why Smith would alter a check when there would be a paper trail with the bank and Patricia Besse was watching over her time cards.

Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Michael Doby said in his closing remarks that the case is about the housekeeper’s betrayal of John and Patricia Besse. Doby said Smith altered the check because it was to her benefit.

Doby said Smith had blamed her son or Patricia Besse for altering the check then blamed John Besse for not writing it out correctly.

Doby addressed Patricia Besse’s inconsistent testimony saying she was the one who initiated the investigation, not the family accountant as she testified the day before.

Doby told the jurors that it’s up to them to decide how the check came to be altered. He requested a guilty verdict for the defendant.

The six-women, six-man jury deliberated for about an hour Thursday before reaching an unanimous verdict of not guilty. When the verdict was announced in court, several audience members cheered including one witness who was found in contempt of court.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143,