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Single mom faces six months in jail over late-paid fine

Valencia woman who illegally used lost credit cards says she received bad legal advice

Sara González with her two children.
Sara González with her two children.

Despite belatedly paying a €1,440 fine imposed by a Spanish court two years ago for credit card fraud, a single mother of two young children now faces a six-month jail term.

In 2009 Sara González, then 24, found a wallet containing credit cards and used them to purchase cellphones that she then resold. González, who now has two daughters, aged four years and two months, says that at the time of the offense she was unemployed and suffering from an eating disorder.

In 2012, after a hearing at which she fully admitted the charges, a Valencia court ordered her to pay a €1,440 fine in lieu of a six-month prison term. She was allowed to break up the payment into daily installments of €4 a day over the course of a year.

But she never did.

I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t think I would have to go to prison”

Sara González

“I developed anorexia at the age of 12, and then when I was 17, I became bulimic,” González told journalists on January 9 outside a Valencia hospital where one of her daughters was undergoing treatment. “I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t think I would have to go to prison,” she said.

But the Valencia regional High Court says González did not present any evidence at her trial relating to her alleged medical condition.

González blames the lawyer who originally represented her in court, who allegedly told her that because she was insolvent, she would not have to pay the fine. He told her he had taken care of the matter.

“Then, one day, a letter arrived telling me I had to pay the €1,440 along with an additional €720. But my lawyer told me not to worry, that the court had accepted that I could not pay. Then another letter came, and after that another, saying that I had to go to prison within five days.”

In a statement issued earlier this month, the Valencia regional High Court says González was informed in June 2013 that if she did not pay the fine she would have to go to jail. The following month, the option to pay the fine was revoked, and in October, she was told to report to prison.

The court accepted that González immediately hired a new lawyer and tried to pay the fine, but noted that the deadline had expired and that she now had to comply with the original jail term.

“My life has changed completely over the last few years: I am cured now, and I have two children. I work cleaning houses, and I’m doing everything I can despite the crisis, and fighting for a pardon,” says González.

Her lawyer has asked the courts for a pardon and for the prison sentence to be suspended until a decision is made, but the petition was turned down by the Valencia Criminal Court, which says that the public mood is against pardons, given the extensive media coverage of corruption cases and the fact that this is an election year.

It also insinuated that González may have decided to have a second child in a bid to avoid prison.

Commenting on the court’s decision, González’s lawyer, Juan Gargallo, said: “What people are sick and tired of hearing about are well-connected politicians involved in corruption cases being let off the hook, not about somebody like Sara.”