Former Fairfax City Treasurer Frances L. Cox, who prosecutors say pilfered at least $200,000 from city taxpayers, was sentenced to 10 years in prison yesterday by a Fairfax Circuit Court judge who rejected pleas for clemency on the grounds that Cox's husband may be dying of cancer and that she is nearly broke.
"The gross violation of the public trust makes this case particularly appropriate for imposing the jury's sentence," said Judge Barbara Keenan, characterizing Cox's embezzlement scheme as "a crime of unmitigated moral turpitude."
Imposing the sentence recommended by the jury that last week convicted Cox of embezzlement, Keenan rejected pleas by Cox's attorney to reduce the sentence because of the poor health of Cox's husband.
Cox's lawyer, John H. Rust Jr., said her 77-year-old husband may be dying of cancer and is almost totally dependent on his 58-year-old wife for his care.
Under the sentence Cox, who was the city's treasurer for 27 years, will be eligible for parole after serving 22 months.
Looking pale and drawn after six days in the county jail, Cox was freed on a $75,000 bond less than an hour after her sentencing yesterday morning. When Judge Keenan set bond, she told Cox: "I have some reservation as to your willingness . . . to surrender yourself."
Rust, who complained to reporters that the "court didn't show much mercy" in sentencing Cox, said yesterday that his client will appeal her conviction to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Testimony during the four-day trial last week revealed that Cox, who was defeated in a bid for reelection last year, deposited at least $200,000 in cash into her personal bank accounts in 1980-81. Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Steven Merril said that is believed to be the "minimum" loss to the city during Cox's tenure in office.
"I think it's a heinous crime," said Merril, as he asked the judge to impose the 10-year sentence.
Rust pleaded with the judge to reduce the sentence, citing Cox's husband's cancer. Dr. Hans J. Klapproth, Cox's family doctor, said her husband was suffering from cancer of the prostate and bladder and had undergone extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments in the recent months.
"His prognosis is not good," Dr. Klapproth told the judge.
"I don't want to feel like an ogre," Merril countered. "It's always harder on the family than anyone else. They're going to have to make arrangements to hire somebody to take care of him."
Merril argued that Cox and her family have large property holdings in Fairfax County and said she still may have a "substantial amount" of money from the $200,000 deposited in her account in 1980 and 1981.
Cox, testifying for the first time, said she has only $1,000 left in her account at the Fairfax County Jail and her personal bank accounts. She also revealed that within the last month she has transferred property valued at more than $250,000 from herself to her husband and son. Cox called the property transfer a "gift."
Rust portrayed his client as a broken woman, financially and emotionally drained as a result of the case against her. "Everything she has built has been totally destroyed," said Rust. "Her reputation, her family, her friends."
He cited her 27 years as a local official, saying "If it went sour at the end, it can't do away with the good she did."
Court testimony last week showed that Cox spent large amounts of money at Elizabeth Arden Beauty Salon, Neiman-Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue during the past two years.
If her appeal fails, the Virginia Department of Corrections would determine where she will serve her prison sentence.
Rust had requested that Cox's sentencing, orginally set for Oct. 15, be expedited, effectively speeding the setting of Cox's bond and her release from jail pending appeal. Cox had waived her right to a presentencing investigation.