A Box Elder woman was sentenced to six months in federal prison and ordered to pay $4,904 in restitution after stealing from a nonprofit that helps low-income people with criminal and civil legal matters. 

Amy Garcia, 34, was sentenced Monday by Judge Jeffrey Viken after pleading guilty to theft of government property. 

Garcia was a former secretary and paralegal for Dakota Plains Legal Service (DPLS) in Pine Ridge, according to the factual basis document she signed. She altered voided checks by removing the word "void" and entering a dollar amount and new date. She then cashed five of the altered checks at a casino and grocery and liquor stores in May and June 2016. She tried to cash two additional altered checks, but they weren't accepted. 

DPLS discovered Garcia's actions during an internal audit ordered after Wells Fargo Bank told the nonprofit that its payroll account was overdrawn, the document says. 

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"Our office takes conduct like this very seriously," Ronald Parsons, U.S. Attorney in South Dakota, said in a news release.  "Anyone who steals from the United States government or steals from a federal program will spend some time in federal prison."

DPLS, which has offices throughout South Dakota and North Dakota, receives money from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a publicly funded nonprofit created by Congress. LSC provides funding to organizations that represent low-income people in civil cases. 

"We hope the prosecution of Amy Garcia offers a strong deterrent to others contemplating stealing Legal Services Corporation funds that are intended to provide much needed legal services to an underprivileged population," Jeffrey E. Schanz, inspector general of the LSC, said in the news release. 

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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