HARRIS COUNTY - Receiving restitution for area crime victims has been a work in progress for some time. Now the Harris County District Attorney says the effort has been completely overhauled.
Restitution, of course, is meant to restore someone after a crime is committed against them but Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg says when she realized seeking that compensation seemed to be victimizing some all over again, she had to do something about it.
“They're the only person in the justice system that didn't want to be there. The rest of us have jobs or the criminal decided to victimize someone but crime victims are innocent parties. In terms of making people whole and fixing our criminal justice issues from the perspective of victims, that's what we're doing. That's why we're doing it. It's such a tremendous improvement and reform,” Ogg explains.
Many area crime victims have never seen the money that was supposed to be paid to them. In fact, in January of 2017 $3-million dollars in restitution was forfeited to the state instead.
"That $3-million represented thousands of victims who never got their money back, even though the criminal paid. So there were two places where restitution had to be reformed,” Ogg adds.
The District Attorney says her office is making receiving and distributing restitution a priority. "As a condition of the plea or the sentence an offender is required to repay the victim. We've collected $30-million of crime victim restitution in the last three and a half years".
David and Linda Toney, owners of Toney Construction Services, thought they would never receive their restitution. “Yes,” they laugh. "Well we were just hopeful that we got some of the money back but the DA's office has been wonderful to work with and it's trickling in".
The Toney's have received more than $100-thousand dollars in repayment after an employee of more than 15 years embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. "He had been turning in timesheets for ghost employees, employees that don't exist,” explains Mr. Toney.
“Our employees, our co-workers are like family to us. For someone to do that when we feel like we've treated them well, that's very disheartening,” says Mrs. Toney.
"It hurt financially. It hurt worse personally,” adds Mr. Toney.
"We want to do everything we can to help the people who are truly innocent who were harmed by the criminal,” explains Ogg who says the goal is to make crime victims whole, particularly during the pandemic when many people are having tough financial times.
She also says her office has been able to collect and distribute $30-million by replacing an antiquated system that just didn't work anymore.