Karmen Ann Barber, who was indicted on 21 counts of 10 different charges, many of which were dismissed in consideration of her guilty plea, pleaded guilty last October, being sentenced to five years of probation and a $5,000 fine.
As her counsel, Carrollton attorney Gary Bunch explained the only issue remaining in the matter is restitution.
Barber was ordered to pay $14,500 in restitution last year, but an additional restitution amount was scheduled to be determined in December.
Since then, it’s been delayed several times, now being scheduled for March 27.
Barber appeared before Judge John Simpson Friday for what was supposed to be a complete hearing. But the hearing ended prematurely after her attorney disputed some auto part replacement estimates.
“The only issue left is restitution,” Bunch said in his opening statement. “We’ve tried to compromise, and we’ve offered more than (the victim) is entitled to, but we’re still here today.”
One of the victims named in Barber’s indictment, Stockbridge resident Cynthia Davis, testified that she had an engine installed by Barber’s automotive repair company, Auto Group Inc., which had “blown up” shortly after installation.
Davis said Shane Barber, Barber’s late husband who was allegedly killed by her father in October 2011, had put an ad on CraigsList saying he had an engine that would fit her 2005 Ford Expedition.
Barber offered $600 for the engine and $600 for the installation, Davis testified.
When the engine faltered shortly thereafter, Davis said the Barbers gave her “the runaround” when she tried to get her car fixed. After several attempts to get the engine replaced by the Barbers, Davis said she notified police.
At that point in the hearing, Davis said she’d brought some estimates made by automotive repair professionals, which Bunch objected to because he saw them as hearsay reports.
“These are unverified documents, and they’re hearsay,” Bunch told Simpson in his objection. “The state could have subpoenaed these auto workers to be here and testify to the credibility of these estimates. Without that, we can’t be sure that these estimates are correct.”
The judge called a recess, asking Bunch and Assistant District Attorney Anne Allen, representing the state, to join him in his chambers.
After a 15-minute recess, Simpson announced that the case would be continued.
“When we reconvene, the case should be about the value of what was bargained for and the cost of installation,” the judge said. “That’s what should be the issue here.”
Simpson set the hearing for March 27.
Davis had previously filed for $1,600 in the Carroll County Magistrate Court, a suit which was dismissed by Judge Alton P. Johnson and turned over to the criminal courts.
However, the state is now asking for more than $1,600.
Bunch called the district attorney’s office’s request of $25,000 “ludicrous.”
“She is only entitled to the replacement of the engine, not to a whole new car,” Bunch said. “She is not entitled to the consequential damages that resulted when the investigators took the car apart.”
Last October, Barber pleaded guilty to forgery in the first degree, theft by deception, theft by taking, operating a chop shop and fraudulent insurance claims. Other charges, including arson in the first degree and theft by receiving, were dismissed in consideration of the her guilty plea.
As the factual basis for the charges, Allen said Barber had taken insurance out on the building of her automotive repair shop, Auto Group Inc., without making it known that the shop had actually burned down the night before.
As for the chop shop charge, Barber is accused of installing a stolen motor into a 2004 Ford Explorer for a customer, as well as reassembling a Pontiac Fiero into a kit car that was supposed to be street-legal, but was actually unable to be driven lawfully on Georgia streets.
Barber is also alleged to have forged a co-worker’s signature on Department of Family and Children Services paperwork to get food stamps, but Allen said the state is not pursuing a welfare fraud charge in consideration of her guilty plea.
Barber pleaded under what is commonly called an “Alford plea,” in which a defendant pleads guilty but maintains his or her innocence. Most Alford pleas are made by defendants who find that the risk of going to trial are too great, and would rather plead guilty and avoid the risk of a jury conviction.