A Tyler woman accused of writing multiple hot checks in Smith County since 1987 entered an open plea to a felony theft charge on Thursday in the Smith County 241st District Court, Smith County Assistant District Attorney Jason Parrish said.
The defendant had been expected to enter the plea Monday, but the case was reset to Thursday because of a backlog of cases in the 241st District Court, Parrish said.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said there were numerous cases on Ms. Johnson dating to 1987, and some cases overlapped. "She has a history of theft-by-check cases and has been jailed several times. She would not be eligible for a payment plan because of that history," he said in July.
Bingham answered questions from the newspaper only after learning Ms. Johnson had said publicly that the two came to an agreement, and she would be allowed to pay restitution in the case.
Ms. Johnson, founder and CEO of the Tyler nonprofit organization Sisters in Christ, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph in July the felony theft case was taken care of, and she would pay back all the money after a charity event in which Academy Award-winning actress Halle Berry was billed as the big draw. The charity event and the felony theft charge are unrelated.
The charity event, scheduled to take place in July at The Cascades Golf Club in Tyler, originally was billed to feature Ms. Berry, along with a professional football player, actor and a comedian.
Ms. Berry's agent said in July that the star was busy filming a movie.
A news release sent July 14 from Ms. Johnson stated that a fundraising dinner and dance to benefit the renovation of the Tysen House, a shelter for battered women, would feature comedian Gayle Palitz and take place at the Staybridge Suites on McDonald Road in Tyler. That release made no mention of Ms. Berry.
Bingham said in July that his office is recommending Ms. Johnson be sentenced to one year in a state jail facility if she enters the guilty plea for the theft charge.
Bingham outlined some of the cases against Ms. Johnson where she served time in the Smith County Jail. In 1998, she was convicted of theft by check and was sentenced to probation, but Bingham said she failed to report to her probation officer and did not make restitution, so she was confined for 170 days in 2000. In a 2001 theft-by-check case, the judge sentenced Ms. Johnson to another 170 days behind bars.
Bingham's office said Ms. Johnson has never paid back all the restitution owed and currently owes $16,135.82 in restitution, fines and court fees.