July 19, 2011

Judge states intent to send Herrmans to prison for theft

Valerie and Doug Herrman didn't only steal money from the state by pocketing adoption subsidies for a child who had disappeared.

Valerie and Doug Herrman didn’t only steal money from the state by pocketing adoption subsidies for a child who had disappeared.

Their theft involved the abandonment and exploitation of a child, according to a document filed in court by a Butler County judge.

Judge David Ricke cited abandonment and exploitation of the Herrmans’ adopted son — Adam Herrman — as key factors in his intent to impose prison sentences in a theft case against the couple.

Adam disappeared from his Towanda home at age 11 in 1999. The Herrmans have said that he ran away after a spanking and that they never reported him missing.

He remains missing, investigators say.

Earlier this month, Ricke filed a document in court notifying the Herrmans’ lawyers that he intends to give each a prison sentence instead of “a presumptive sentence of probation.”

The Herrmans, now in their mid-50s, face sentencing Aug. 1.

They pleaded guilty last month to felony theft by continuing to take adoption subsidy payments for Adam’s care. The Herrmans pleaded guilty to essentially stealing $15,488 in adoption subsidies over about a two-year period.

In an identical document addressed to each of the defendants, Ricke stated: “This failure to promptly and adequately report the child’s disappearance is contrary to the health, safety and welfare of a child, and constitutes an aggravating factor not normally present in theft or other property crime cases. .æ.æ.

“The long-term delay in reporting Adam’s disappearance from the home so as to not interfere with the adoption subsidy payments being received by the Herrman household, not only exploited the state’s resources .æ.æ. but also exploited and compromised Adam Herrman,” Ricke wrote.

The failure also “reflects the abandonment and neglect of a child in a manner not normally present in a theft offense,” Ricke said.

The judge said he was giving defense attorneys a chance to argue against prison sentences.

Chris Pate, attorney for Valerie Herrman, said he will file a written response to the judge’s notification.

Michael Brown, attorney for Doug Herrman, could not be reached for comment.

Authorities didn't learn that Adam was missing until late 2008, when his older, adoptive sister came forward to share concerns about him.

The plea agreement by which the Herrmans pleaded guilty recommends 12 months of probation, but it is up to Ricke, the judge, to determine the sentence.

When the Herrmans pleaded guilty last month, Ricke said that depending on the extent of any criminal history they might have, they could face from five to 17 months in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

The agreement also calls for the Herrmans to pay $15,488 in restitution and a $2,500 fine for each of them.

The charge alleged that the Herrmans accepted the subsidy from November 2003 until July 8, 2005, a month after Adam would have turned 18.

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