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Judge rejects plea in Vannis case

In front of a packed courtroom, Harrison Superior Court Judge Roger D. Davis rejected a plea deal submitted on behalf of Susan Vannis, the Corydon woman accused of taking nearly $1 million from the doctor she was employed by for several years.
Under the plea agreed to by the prosecution, Vannis would have pled guilty to two of the original seven felony counts of theft. She would have served four years in prison and would have paid $300,000 in restitution over her eight-year probation period, including paying $100,000 upon acceptance of the plea to her former employer, Dr. Paul Kelty, a Corydon gynecologist-obstetrician.
Davis rejected the plea, noting that he questioned whether Vannis would be able to pay the restitution and adding that the relatively short prison sentence was not enough in a case where someone took nearly $1 million.
‘It could be easy to just accept the plea deal and move on, but I take my job more serious than that,’ Davis said. ‘To me, it’s wildly unrealistic to think that the defendant could get out of prison and get a job making more than $25,000 with a felony conviction on their record and pay both restitution and take care of day-to-day bills.
‘It strikes me as being ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘ he said.
Prosecutors allege that Vannis, who served as office manager for Kelty for 15 years, cashed insurance checks written to Kelty’s office during a seven-year period. According to allegations stemming from an audit by Kelty, insurance checks had been cashed by Vannis totaling the following, rounded: in 2000, $82,721; 2001, $130,330; 2002, $141,668; 2003, $109,887; 2004, $192,374; 2005, $197,455; and 2006, $113,748.
Investigators from the Indiana State Police, Vannis had used Kelty’s signature stamp to cash the checks.
Vannis took the stand for the first time in a public setting Friday.
The judge reminded the 46-year-old woman that she didn’t have to answer any of his questions then Davis asked what she did with the money and if any of it was left.
After a consultation with her lawyer, P. Michael Summers, Vannis chose to answer Davis’ queries.
‘I don’t have any money. I’m selling everything we can just to pay the restitution,’ she said. ‘I’m hard-working and dedicated and if I have to spend the rest of my life paying (Kelty) off, I will.
‘I want to quit hurting everybody that I’ve hurt.’
During questioning, Vannis described how she used most of the money on her four children, including triplets, saying she always wanted the best for them.
‘With the triplets, there was always three of everything hitting at the same time. There were three cars, three driver’s licenses, three proms, and it got overwhelming. I didn’t use all of the money on me. I used some of it to help family and people who needed it,’ Vannis said. ‘I used some of the money on me, but most of the money went to my kids.’
‘So, that’s your excuse?’ Davis asked.
‘I wanted to help people, and I went about it the wrong way. I’ve always been a generous person. I gave money to my parents, sister, friends, gave some to my church,’ added Vannis.
During questioning by special prosecutor Cynthia Winkler, Vannis painted a larger picture of how some of the money may have been spent, including spending hundreds of dollars at church quilt auctions, a renovation of the kitchen in her house, the purchase of a boat, three insulin pumps (at a cost of $20,000 to $25,000) and paying college expenses for her children, including housing and, by her estimation, anywhere from $250 to $300 a month allowance per child. Vannis also said that she’d had three surgeries, with two being cosmetic, and made yearly trips to Dale Hollow Lake and Daytona Beach, Fla. She also paid for a DJ at the wedding of one of her daughters.
When Winkler asked Vannis about the purchase of property in Florida, Summers asked to approach the bench. After a brief discussion, Winkler finished her questioning.
Summers pointed out to the court that Vannis had two mortgages on her home, multiple cars and a boat that were not paid for, and about $20,000 in credit-card debt.
‘Judging from those things, I have no doubt that all of the money is gone and not stuck in a hole somewhere,’ Davis said.
Kelty also took to the stand, eventually describing how he was planning on selling his practice because it wasn’t making the money he thought it should have been. It was during that time that he hired a special financial consultant who eventually found the paper trail that led to Vannis.
‘It got so bad that I had to do away with my employees’ retirement funds last year because I couldn’t afford it,’ Kelty said. ‘I rolled everything into an IRA. No doubt (the theft) hurt other employees, too, because I could have given them raises.’
Kelty said he still hopes to put the case behind him, but unless another plea bargain is made, a trial will likely take more time and money away from his practice.
‘Every day I’m out here, I’m away from my patients,’ he said.
The case continues Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. with a pre-trial hearing. A jury trial is slated for Nov. 13 at 9 a.m.