A former First Community Bank branch manager from Searcy who pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $330,000 from 18 customers, including 10 over 80 years old, was sentenced in federal court in Little Rock on Thursday afternoon to serve 1 1/2 years in a federal prison.

Amanda McClish also has to pay the bank back the $329,240.68 she stole, according to U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker. McClish’s sentencing hearing was held at the Richard Sheppard Arnold U.S. Courthouse.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Jegley was seeking a sentence of more than two years (27-33 months), saying McClish was calculated, seeking out individuals who use CDs (certificates of deposit) and those who did not use online banking. She said the amount stolen from customers was “a lot of money.”

Jegley also said so far McClish, who was a branch manager in Searcy, had made no attempts at making restitution to the bank. She also said other bank branch managers need to know this type of activity is not acceptable.

First Community Bank’s executive vice-president and legal counsel, Laura Brissey, testified that McClish had “extensive contact with customers and was a popular employee with customers.” She said McClish through her position had access to customer’s Social Security numbers, dates of birth and could see all of their financial information concerning how much money they had at the bank.

McClish was making $45,000 as a branch manager, and Brissey said McClish was well respected, had good attendance, had a good appearance and was utilized as a “best practices employee.”

McClish stole the money from September 2014 through early July 2018, Court documents state that it was discovered in 2018 that McClish was embezzling funds from customers “when a customer called FCB about missing money from his account and McClish was on vacation. ... McClish made admissions about theft and within an hour, while still on vacation, McClish paid FCB the initially discovered theft.”

McClish was terminated by First Community Bank in July 2018.

Brissey said it took five months of full-time work to determine the different ways McClish used to steal from customers. In an example she gave, McClish stole $5,000 from a customer by closing out his account that had $54,000 and opening a new account for him with only $49,000. The customer discovered his account had been closed out and opened with the lesser amount.

Sitting next to her attorney, Hubert Alexander, McClish frequently wiped tears from her eyes. She also took sips of water.

According to testimony, McClish would forge signatures, cash cashier’s checks and keep the cash and “used her staff unknowingly [to them] to take this path.” Her “pattern and practice” was to steal from “high net worth,” often elderly customers who did not use internet banking or receive account statements in the mail. The ages of the customers who were stolen from ranged from 55-94, four of them have since died.

Brissey said McClish had intimate knowledge of customers’ families, such as knowing their names. On one of the forged checks, the memo was written as “car for son.”

She also said McClish changed addresses so some of the customers would not receive their statements. In one case, McClish created an email that said a customer was going overseas with her sister and wished to have her statement held for her at the bank.

Brissey said she sat down with each “victim” to check unauthorized withdrawals. First Community Bank has made each of the customers stolen from “whole” by paying them back all of the money McClish stole from them, she said, and made sure they were paid the compounded interest accrued on their accounts. The total amount was $419,000 “and some change.”

Alexander on cross-examination of Brissey said since the victims were paid back, “they haven’t lost a dollar.” Brissey countered that they were still out their money, they owned it.

Baker said restitution payments by McClish must be made to the district court clerk, who will turn them over to First Community Bank, which is headquartered in Batesville.

Speaking before his wife’s sentencing, Shawn McClish said, “I do not want to lose my wife” and “this has brought us a lot closer.”

McClish for the last two years has been working as a business manager for Futrell Marine in Heber Springs. Her boss said she is a “model employee. She shows up early and stays late. She deserves a chance.” He said he would like to keep her employed.

McClish came to the lectern to say “I apologize to bank customers.” She said she apologizes for her “selfishness”” and “stupidity” and realizes that she will have to work harder and longer to repay the bank for her actions. She called her actions “inexcusable” and said her trust was broken. McClish cried while making her remarks.

Alexander said McClish had a good income, is married, has children and a home. He told Baker that he wanted to make sure his client was sent to a facility that offered her substance abuse treatment, mentioning federal prisons in Bryan, Texas, and Greenville, Ill. Alexander asked Baker to be fair in her sentencing and he also brought up that is was important for her to be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baker said she had received letters on behalf of McClish and they were given to Jegley to look over. Baker said she also factored in the reality of COVID-19, acknowledging that it was different from “regular time.”

As part of McClish’s sentencing, Baker said she could receive substance abuse treatment and mental health therapy for $10 per session, not to exceed $40 in a month.

In her closing sentencing remarks, Baker said McClish has struggled with addiction and mental health issues and she had the impression that her actions were out of character for her. Baker told McClish that she has shown grace and mercy to people and she encouraged her to show some to herself and encouraged her to break the cycle of substance abuse and move through this.

In a statement to The Daily Citizen on Thursday, Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, said, “This defendant abused the trust that the bank’s customers, many of them elderly, had placed in her. Our office will continue to aggressively pursue those who take advantage of senior citizens in our communities.”

McClish will “self-report” to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Jan. 11 to find out where she will be sent. It could be one of the two recommended by the judge or another facility named by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

McClish pleaded guilty in January to a single charge of embezzlement of bank funds, She waived her right to have the charge reviewed by a federal grand jury. She was also required to surrender her passport.

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