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An embezzlement scheme by a former Bureau of Land Management employee drained the agency’s budget to the point that rangers could not buy ammunition or body armor.

Pamela Spencer, 33, pleaded guilty to stealing $90,000 of government property through a series of fraudulent purchases she made using a government-issued credit card. She was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Tucson to six months in prison, three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of $83,169.

As mortgage payments and credit card bills piled up, she “acted out of desperation,” Spencer told U.S. District Judge James A. Soto at the sentencing hearing.

“I thought I could skim money so that no one would know” about her dire financial straits, Spencer said, adding she bought things she now knows she did not need.

Pamela Mathis, a BLM associate district manager, submitted a statement to the court saying Spencer’s colleagues saw social media posts from Spencer showing an “international, extravagant family cruise, purchases of a camping trailer, a new truck, and upgrades of a motorcycle, as well as home improvements — all while she reported she could not afford a babysitter.”

Spencer primarily targeted law enforcement accounts by “increasing her fraudulent spending and mimicking legitimate officer-expenditures,” according to Mathis’ victim statement. BLM law enforcement officers could not buy the things they needed such as ammunition and body armor, and their account was in debt nearly $16,000 by August 2017, court documents say.

Spencer admitted to charging personal and business expenses to a government credit card and hiding the charges by changing the vendor name on BLM invoices to government-approved vendors. Investigators found none of the vendors had records of the charges, according to a plea agreement filed in May in U.S. District Court in Tucson.

While employed as an administrative support assistant for BLM’s Gila District, Spencer’s duties included buying equipment and supplies for BLM’s Tucson and Safford offices, according to the plea agreement.

Spencer properly used the credit card from December 2014 until June 2016, when she failed to provide credit card statements. She was warned by her supervisor a year later about her credit card use.

On Sept. 14, 2017, her supervisor received a call about two purchases on the government credit card statement to a merchant named “PP Pamela’s Prints” for $1,575. Pamela’s Prints was Spencer’s Tucson-based business that prints invitations, cards and clothing, according to the plea agreement.

Her supervisor immediately suspended the credit card. Spencer then ordered a new card without her supervisor’s approval. The card was promptly canceled, but she was able to get another one, according to the agreement.

Spencer was “never officially told that she was under investigation,” her attorney, Ralph Ellinwood, said at the sentencing hearing on Thursday. She thought her credit card was expired and told her supervisor she was ordering a new one.

Spencer knew she was under investigation because the card was declined, not expired, Mathis told Soto at the hearing.

On Jan. 10, 2018, Spencer’s supervisor asked to see her credit card statement, and she provided him a with statement from December 2017 that only showed two charges with her signature. The supervisor, however, printed out the real statement from that month showing 22 charges, five that were “clearly fraudulent,” according to the agreement.

Spencer was removed from any duties requiring the use of a government credit card, and the card was officially canceled. She resigned in February after three years with the BLM.

While under investigation, Spencer removed her government laptop, which contained employee-sensitive information. Upon its retrieval, investigators sent the laptop to government IT specialists who reported the hard drive was missing, according to Mathis’ written statement to the court.

Spencer denied taking the hard drive, which is still missing, Mathis wrote.

Spencer said she and her husband filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and she started a new job to begin paying off their debt.

Jordan Williams is a journalism student at the University of Arizona and an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@tucson.com.