Noriega Pleads Guilty To Theft

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Linda Noriega, a longtime Gila County employee who was charged with 13 felonies including theft, fraud and money laundering, faces up to 2 1/2 years in prison under the terms of a plea agreement entered before Maricopa Judge David R. Cole in Superior Court in Globe.


In light of the plea agreement, Cole dropped 10 of the 13 charges against the former county personnel director and canceled her trial, which was set to begin on Monday.


Noriega's sentencing is set for March 16, and she could face between six months and 2 1/2 years in prison. According to the terms of the plea agreement, she also will be required to pay $20,000 in restitution.


Noriega pleaded guilty to charges of theft, fraudulent schemes and practices, and fraudulent schemes and artifices.


Cole dropped two charges of misuse of public money, one count of theft, two counts of money laundering, three additional counts of fraudulent schemes and two counts of perjury.


Noriega, a 19-year employee with the county, was fired from her job as personnel director in December 1997, under suspicion of using county travel funds for her own use and writing herself a duplicate paycheck in July 1997.


After her termination, nine vouchers totaling $12,000 were found in her desk and were entered as evidence.


Noriega's attorney, James Hazel of Payson, was appointed to the case. Hazel said he asked for suppression of the vouchers as evidence because Noriega had no opportunity to know what was taken from her desk after she left her job. That motion was denied, and Noriega made the decision to enter a plea agreement.


She remains free on her own recognizance. Hazel said she is currently employed.


"Obviously, she wants to continue working so she can provide restitution," he said. "She's working, trying to take care of the restitution and support her family. She has six children altogether -- she has a lot of responsibilities.


"Obviously, we're going to be seeking the minimum sentence," Hazel said. "(During sentencing), we'll have some people say some things on her behalf."

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