Columnist

Rock Hill bank teller starts prison time at “Camp Cupcake”

January 3, 2014 

The Rock Hill bank teller who stole more than $367,000 from the Wells Fargo drive-up branch on Cherry Road then blew through all the money before she was caught might think that the federal prison she reported to Thursday is a piece of cake, too.

She may even be able to get a recipe for cake from former inmate Martha Stewart.

Dionna Shawntae Lowery, 26, of Catawba, reported Thursday to to serve out 18 months at Federal Prison Camp Alderson in West Virginia – a minimum security prison without cells or razor wire. It was dubbed “Camp Cupcake” when famous inmate and homemaking guru Martha Stewart was there a decade ago after serving time for an insider trading scandal. Some have called the women’s prison the “cushiest prison in America.” Inmates are allowed everything from cosmetology services to MP3 players and more.

The inmates live in dorms, said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Those dorms include microwave ovens, hair dryers, irons to take the creases out of clothes and and even curling irons for hair.

The inmate manual also shows that each inmate starts out with a job in food service or landscaping for two months, then can apply for other jobs.

“Plus, there are the continuing education programs,” said Burke, the prisons spokesman.

Inmates at Alderson are allowed visitors on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Inmates can make up to five hours of phone calls out of the prison each month.

The prison offers aerobics and bocce and even sewing classes. This is a place that allows sunbathing, according to a manual of more than 70 pages that all inmates receive.

Lowery, the lead teller and supervisor at the branch across from Winthrop Commons shopping plaza, was sentenced in early November after pleading guilty earlier in 2013 to the crime of replacing $100 and $50 bills with $1 bills from stacks of money at the branch. Bank security teams rushed to the FBI after the money was found missing, and Lowery pleaded guilty shortly after she was indicted.

Lowery had no criminal record before the crime. Her brazen act was so shocking to the federal judge who sentenced her, Cameron Currie, that Currie asked Lowery in open court, “You had to know you’d get caught?”

All Lowery said that day was, “Yes, ma’am,” before admitting that all the money was gone.

Lowery declined to say in court, or after court, what she did with the money. She was allowed to report to the prison Thursday, two months after sentencing, because the judge agreed to let Lowery spend Christmas with her child before heading to prison.

Lowery was ordered to pay Wells Fargo $100 a month in restitution. That means the money would be paid back to the bank in a little over 300 years.

Wells Fargo security staff who uncovered the theft and were in court when Lowery was sentenced declined comment again Friday on Lowery’s crime, prison sentence or the restitution order.

Another Wells Fargo teller from the same branch, Tina Shaneka Hall, 33, of Rock Hill, also pleaded guilty to the charge of embezzlement from a bank. She was set for sentencing Wednesday but the hearing was rescheduled for Feb. 19, according to prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Hall’s lawyer, Michael Brown of Rock Hill, could not be reached Friday.

Hall faces up to two years in prison, but federal prosecutor Jamie Schoen said in Lowery’s sentencing hearing that Lowery, not Hall, was the supervisor at the branch and was the lead employee at the time of the theft. Federal court documents show that both Hall and Lowery are responsible for the full amount stolen: $367,629.18.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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