Former correctional officer sentenced for stealing inmates' identities

Harold Bush Walbey, 47, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison

By Larry Hannan
The Florida Times-Union

JACKSON — A former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office corrections officer is due to spend about four years in prison for stealing the identities of the inmates he was guarding and filing false tax returns using their names and Social Security numbers.

Harold Bush Walbey, 47, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison Monday by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan.

While Walbey was working at the John E. Goode Pretrial Detention Facility, he ordered debit cards in the inmates’ names, according to the indictment. Then he filed false tax returns and had the refunds deposited into the cards’ accounts. Then he took the money from the fake accounts.

Prosecutors said 38 prisoners had their identities stolen and 52 fraudulent tax returns were filed. Walbey claimed $257,000 in tax return money and had pocketed $110,000 before he was arrested.

During a sentencing hearing last month U.S. Attorney Malisa Chokshi had asked for a prison sentence of 78 months because he violated the public trust to enrich himself. Walbey attorney Jim Hernandez argued that his client should get 18 months because he had led an exemplary life of public service in the military and law enforcement and shouldn’t be judged by this one action.

Walbey said he regretted his conduct and the embarrassment it caused his family and the Sheriff’s Office at last month’s hearing. He did not speak Monday before the court.

In announcing his sentence Corrigan said 78 months was too high because of Walbey’s remorse and his previous record in the military and the Sheriff’’s Office. But Corrigan also stressed the seriousness of what Walbey did.

“These people were innocent victims,” Corrigan said. “I know it’s odd to call inmates victims, but in this case they were.”

Walbey also employed his 20-year-old daughter to go to the ATM machines and withdraw money. The daughter ended up getting probation, but Corrigan said the fact that his daughter is now a felon is Walbey’s responsibility.

Corrigan also said he felt a responsibility to issue a sentence that would deter other police officers from being tempted into doing something similar.

Walbey wrote a letter to Corrigan apologizing and saying he feared he’s given other corrections officers a black eye. Monday the judge told Walbey his behavior had done just that.

Walbey also will be required to pay back the $110,000 he pocketed to the IRS once he gets out of prison. Corrigan said he would have to repay at least $50 a month, starting 60 days after his release.

The monthly amount will increase once Walbey gets a job and is better able to make restitution, Corrigan said.

Walbey is out on bail and was not taken into custody Monday. Corrigan told him the U.S. Marshals Service would contact him about when to turn himself in and begin his sentence.

Walbey was fired after his arrest and as a felon can never again work in law enforcement.

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