By Bob Allen
The former financial secretary at an Alabama Baptist association will spend the night in jail for a year after pleading guilty of theft.
Tonya Renee Woodward, 52, confessed in August to stealing money from the Columbia Baptist Association in Dothan, Ala., over a four-year period. On Oct. 16 a Houston County judge sentenced her to 46 months in state prison on each charge but suspended those sentences for 12 months in a work release program called Houston County Community Corrections.
The program, started in 2002 to ease prison crowding and give inmates a second chance, allows inmates to leave for work each day but face a felony escape charge if they do not return at the end of the day.
The facility, which holds up to 170 male and female inmates, is not locked, but there are rules to follow, including no cell phones and no smoking. In addition to her incarceration, the court ordered Woodward to pay $117,372.50 in restitution to her former employer. After completing the 12-month program she will be on probation for three years.
According to the Dothan Eagle, Woodward apologized to both the court and the Columbia Baptist Association for her actions, saying they were aided by depression. In her initial statement to police, she reportedly said the devil made her do it.
Dothan police arrested Woodward on Oct. 8, 2012, after the association’s director of missions found $8,000 in missions money missing in the previous four months and determined by her own admission that the financial secretary took the funds. After further investigation, police alleged that she had stolen more than $130,000 over the course of four years.
The 53-church association affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions has an annual budget of just under $350,000.