Guilty Plea Slated Aug. 3
By DAYNA WORCHEL
A Tyler woman accused of writing multiple hot checks in Smith County since 1987 is expected to plead guilty to a felony theft charge in the Smith County 241st District Court on Aug. 3, her attorney said in court Monday.
Denetrius Miller Johnson, 39, faces a punishment range of probation to two years in a state jail facility on a charge of felony theft for writing a hot check for $1,725.82 in April 2009, prosecutor Jason Parrish said. Defense attorney Clifton Roberson is representing Ms. Johnson.
Ms. Johnson, founder and CEO of the Tyler nonprofit organization Sisters in Christ, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph last week the case was taken care of, and she would pay all the money back 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 not related.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said 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 said there were numerous cases on Ms. Johnson dating to 1987, and some cases overlapped.
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.
"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 last week.
The charity event, which was scheduled to take place Saturday through Monday at The Cascades Golf Club in Tyler, was originally billed to feature Ms. Berry, along with a professional football player, actor and a comedian.
Berry's Hollywood representatives repeatedly denied that the star would appear in Tyler and last week Barney Slobodin, Office of Matt DelPiano/Creative Artists Agency, Berry's agent, said the star was busy filming a movie.
A news release sent Saturday 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.
Jeff Shirley, sales manager at the Staybridge Suites, confirmed in a phone call Monday that the event took place Saturday but could not confirm if Ms. Palitz appeared.
Phone calls and emails to Ms. Johnson were not returned on Monday, and representatives from The Cascades Golf Club did not return phone calls and emails about the original event.
Roberson, defense attorney for Ms. Johnson, said he only represented her on the felony theft charge and did not know any details of any of the planned charity events.
A grand jury indicted Ms. Johnson in April, and she was arrested June 13 on the felony theft charge related to the 2009 hot check. Ms. Johnson said last week her theft-by-check problems were misunderstandings and that she simply had a hard time balancing a checkbook.
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 of the restitution owed and currently owes $16,135.82 in restitution, fines and court fees.
Staff Writer Kenneth Dean contributed to this report.