Gambling Addiction ‘Doesn’t Justify’ $300K Theft by Arkansas Grandma Bank Teller

Posted on: August 30, 2023, 07:25h. 

Last updated on: August 31, 2023, 12:55h.

A bank teller who stole $300k from the Premier Bank of Arkansas (PBA) was told her gambling addiction and mental health problems only partially excused her actions. She was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

Southland Casino, Pamela Cooper, Arkansas bank, Southern Bankcorp
Southland Casino, Arkansas, above, where Cooper blew her ill-gotten gains in the space of 13 months. Prosecutors said it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if she avoided prison (Image:

Grandmother Pamela Cooper, 63, of Marion, Ark., pleaded guilty last week to one count of embezzling bank funds from the PBA branch in the city, part of the Memphis metropolitan area. PBA was acquired last year by Southern Bankcorp.

An FBI investigation found that Cooper, who earned a salary of $30K per year at the branch, had lost a total of $311,925 at nearby Southland Casino. Cooper’s losing streak lasted just over a year, from November 2019 to December 2020.

She was fired from the bank on December 22, 2020, after an internal audit a month earlier revealed a $200K hole in its funds.

A subsequent investigation into teller drawers and recycler machines, which dispense cash for tellers like an ATM dispenses cash to bank customers, revealed an extra $94K was missing.

Internal Audit

The only remaining area of the branch to be audited was Cooper’s teller drawer, which could not be opened because she had taken leave when she heard about the audit. When it was finally opened, it contained slightly more than $5K instead of the $25K that should have been there.

Cooper’s crime would have been discovered sooner had she not transferred money from the vault to the recycler. She then cooked the books to make it appear that no money was missing, prosecutors said.

The later audit found that Cooper was the only employee with access to the vault and the recycler.

Chasing Losses

Her lawyer, Molly Sullivan, emphasized that Cooper had undergone mental health counseling for her gambling addiction since her arrest.

“An addiction to gambling doesn’t justify her behavior here, but I think it explains what happened,” Sullivan said, as reported by the Gazette. “Her access to funds and her thought process that — ‘I’ll just hit it big at the casino and pay that money back’ — that didn’t happen here, obviously.”

Public defender Sullivan asked for a lenient sentence of one day in prison followed by five years of supervised release, considering Cooper’s mental health problems, previous good standing, and sense of remorse.

But chief prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Crow, said that would be a “miscarriage of justice” for a defendant who had been facing up to 30 years in prison before her plea deal.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. agreed.

“You can’t steal over $300,000 and not expect some prison sentence,” he said.