TAMPA — Jeanette Hevel betrayed the public trust placed in police officers and tarnished her badge when she stole fraudulent tax refund checks from an evidence room.
For that, she has paid what her lawyer says is a heavy price. She trashed a 27-year law enforcement career, lost her pension and saw friends turn their backs.
But she won’t have to go to prison after a federal judge on Thursday gave her a break and sentenced Hevel to five years of probation with eight months of home detention.
“I can tell that you’re very remorseful for what happened here,” said U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington, who said the sentence was fair in light of the effects Hevel has already felt, as well has her willingness to take responsibility for her crimes and her cooperation with the prosecution.
Defense lawyer, Mark O’Brien, suggested Hevel may have given information to federal investigators about at least one other police officer, saying the targets were “not just civilian.”
The former Tampa police corporal gave an emotional apology for her actions.
“I had the opportunity to work for the best police department in the United States of America,” Hevel said, weeping. She said she always wanted to be a police officer. “What I did was wrong. There’s no excuse.”
She said her actions shouldn’t reflect on the rest of the department. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hate myself for what I did,” she said. “I was so proud to put that uniform on. ... Some have forgiven me; a lot haven’t. To this day, I haven’t been able to forgive myself.”
Covington also ordered Hevel to perform 1,000 hours of community service work and pay more than $100,000 in restitution, a responsibility to be shared by the street criminal who cashed the checks for Hevel at a rate of 10 or 15 cents on the dollar.
The judge said she will consider ending the probation after three years if Hevel finishes her community service hours and makes a “significant dent” in the restitution, which is to go to the Internal Revenue Service.
O’Brien told the court in a sentencing memorandum that Hevel stole the checks to pay for a lawyer to divorce her cheating husband, who was also a police officer.
Assistant Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told Covington, “This is a blemish on all law enforcement throughout the nation, and it’s something the Tampa Police Department takes very seriously.”
Hevel stole the checks in 2011 and 2012, at a time when stolen identity tax refund fraud had exploded on the streets of the city and when police were struggling to deal with a crime that the IRS was not aggressively pursuing.
Hevel is the first of three Tampa police officers, plus one former civilian employee, accused of committing crimes in connection with the epidemic of stolen identity refund fraud.
A former detective and his wife, a former sergeant, Eric and Lajoyce Houston, have been indicted on charges including identity theft, money laundering and theft of government property. Former civilian police employee Tonia Bright has been charged in a federal indictment with conspiring to commit tax refund fraud.