She planned to pay the money back.
That is what the defense is likely to argue when Gina Marie Kepler, a former Pennsylvania liquor enforcement officer, goes on trial Tuesday on charges that she shook down nine suburban bar owners.
Less likely to be mentioned in federal court in Philadelphia is her contention that she is paying the price for ending an "intimate relationship" with one of her bosses.
Kepler, 35, of Salem, N.J., is accused of taking corrupt advantage of her official duties at the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, which reports to the state police.
Federal prosecutors say that besides inspecting businesses that serve alcohol and ordering closings for liquor-law violations, Kepler used her clout as a nine-year employee of the bureau to obtain $13,000 in cash over two years from nine bar owners in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.
Kepler, a feisty former go-go dancer, has repeatedly protested that she is innocent.
She did so again in a filing with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Jan. 28. Kepler said her superior officers had discriminated against her, according to court documents.
Her attorney, William R. Spade Jr., filed a motion to prevent prosecutors from introducing the filing, which alleges that the FBI's investigation of Kepler was retaliatory, occurring after Kepler ended a "11/2-year intimate relationship" with one of her bosses. That person allegedly threatened Kepler after the breakup, court documents said.
State police spokesman Jack Lewis said the police had no comment on the EEOC complaint.
During a pretrial hearing May 20, Spade lost a bid to have one of the federal charges dismissed, arguing that Kepler had paid back $1,000 to one of the bar owners.
U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell asked whether bank robbers who returned the cash should get a free pass. He said that the issue was relevant only for restitution purposes, and that Spade was free to argue to the jury that Kepler had not planned to pocket the money permanently.
In interviews and court records, bar owners have described Kepler as a master manipulator who spun tales of woe - the death of her father, the maiming of a best friend in a motorcycle wreck - to obtain loans.
She also is alleged to have pressured tavern owners to purchase electronic ID-card scanners from her, which she did not always produce.
Court records show that Kepler had financial problems, filing for bankruptcy three times since 2004 and amassing thousands of dollars in debt from credit cards, utility bills, and unpaid association fees on her Warrington condo.
Maj. John Lutz, who has led the Liquor Control Enforcement Bureau since 2006, said that as one of 140 liquor enforcement officers statewide, Kepler had earned about $45,000 a year before the federal charges led to her suspension and resignation.
If convicted of all charges, Kepler would face a maximum possible sentence of 180 years and $2.25 million in fines.
Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.