LORAIN — Sierra Dozier has been charged by federal authorities with stealing between $15,000 and $20,000 while working as a deputy clerk of courts in Lorain Municipal Court before her arrest on drug charges in May.
The money Dozier, 26, is accused of stealing came from fines and fees that defendants in criminal and traffic cases were paying to the court, according to an affidavit used to justify the case that was unsealed on Oct. 9 during the federal government shutdown.
FBI Special Agent Casey Carty wrote in the affidavit that Dozier, who has not been federally indicted and remains free on bond, met with Lorain police and a representative of Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office on May 28 and admitted that she took the money.
During that conversation, Dozier said she was responsible for opening incoming mail that contained checks written by defendants, Carty wrote. She would put the checks in her cash drawer and steal a corresponding amount of money, which she later deposited in her own bank account.
“As Dozier would not actually apply the payments to the defendant’s case, there was a risk that the defendant’s driver’s license would be suspended due to the unpaid fines,” Carty wrote. “To mitigate this risk, Dozier would make a memo in the court records to the effect of ‘do not cancel DL (driver’s license).’ The ticket would appear as a pending ticket in the LMC computer system rather than an unpaid ticket.”
She also allegedly would take fines while working the window at the clerk’s office when defendants came in to make payments so their driver’s license suspensions would be lifted.
“In many of these cases, Dozier would keep the cash paid by the defendants and provide them with LMC documentation releasing the suspension,” Carty wrote. “Dozier stated that because defendants in these situations obtained the desired results (their suspensions were released), they were unaware that she had stolen their fine money.”
Dozier told investigators the thefts occurred between February 2012 and May 2013.
Clerk of Courts Lori Maiorana declined to comment except to say she fired Dozier, who was placed on unpaid leave in May, after she was indicted on state drug and child endangering charges in July.
Dozier was arrested after Lorain police raided the Columbo Lane home she shared with her then-boyfriend and current husband, Julio Osorio, who police had been investigating for drug trafficking.
During the May 14 raid, officers reported they found six pounds of marijuana and $862 in cash that police believe Osorio planned to use for drug deals. Police also found Lorain Municipal Court documents, including traffic citations, checks payable to the court and envelopes belonging to the clerk’s office, the affidavit said.
Attorney Jack Bradley, who is representing Dozier in her state case, has said his client was allowed to take some work home with her. Bradley also has denied that Dozier was involved in the drug trafficking that Osorio, who has pleaded not guilty to state drug charges, is accused of engaging in.
The discovery of the documents and the resulting investigation prompted police and the clerk’s office to briefly stop making arrests on warrants Dozier had handled while the paperwork was reviewed.
The investigation also appears to still be ongoing. Carty wrote that a review of Dozier’s bank accounts showed she took in more money than she claimed to have stolen.
Between February 2012 and May 10, 2013, Dozier deposited $48,187 in cash into her bank account. Carty wrote that money was in addition to her wages from the clerk’s office, which were deposited directly into her account.
“Investigation has revealed that some of the money Dozier deposited into this account came from another source or sources, and was not money Dozier took from the LMC,” Carty wrote. “To date, your Affiant has been unable to quantify the exact amount of money Dozier received from each source.”
Vicki Ward, the defense attorney representing Dozier in the federal case, said while she couldn’t speak to what else the FBI is investigating, she is surprised her client is facing a charge of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds.
According to the affidavit, the investigation into Dozier became a federal case because of how the city of Lorain has its bank accounts set up. Carty wrote that in 2012 Lorain received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and another grant of $308,424 from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The federal grant funds are put into the same “General Treasury” account that money collected from the clerk’s office and other revenue sources goes into, Lorain City Auditor Ron Mantini said.
Ward said Dozier wasn’t stealing federal money.
“I was surprised because the funds are so far removed from (the federal funding),” she said.
Ward also noted that virtually every governmental entity receives some sort of federal funding. She said she would have thought the allegations against her client would be handled in state court, not the federal justice system.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said his office isn’t involved in the federal case against Dozier, which is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon, one of the prosecutors who spearheaded the long-running Cuyahoga County corruption case that led to dozens of public officials and vendors being convicted.
“We’re conducting our own investigation,” Will said but declined to elaborate.
Lorain police Lt. Roger Watkins, Lorain Law Director Pat Riley, Lorain Municipal Court Judge Mark Mihok and a spokesman for federal prosecutors all declined to comment Wednesday.