Casheba Cannon

In April, Casheba Cannon was named Portsmouth's Co-Elementary Teacher of the year. In September, she pleaded guilty to one count of felony health care fraud.

Screengrab from Portsmouth Public Schools video

God bless defense attorneys. Without them, people facing criminal charges wouldn’t get a fair shake in court.

Everyone knows lawyers will zealously defend their clients. Their statements drift into hyperbole frequently; it’s par for the course, not the least bit unexpected.

Sometimes, though, their exaggerations are so risible as to take center stage in the Theater of the Absurd. Look at what happened Monday in federal court in Norfolk.

J. Burkhardt Beale was giving a spirited defense of Casheba Cannon, a 41-year-old former Portsmouth school teacher who was being sentenced for felony health care fraud. Cannon had a second job as a mental health counselor, and she had pleaded guilty a few months ago to cheating Medicaid of more than $50,000. The joint federal-state program provides health care for the poor and people with disabilities.

Cannon, who lives in Chesapeake, had lied 283 times about meeting clients back in 2013. So this wasn’t merely a couple of instances of fudging documents. Not hardly. A federal judge sentenced her to about six months of house arrest.

The Pilot’s Scott Daugherty covered Monday’s sentencing. Beale said his client had been under investigation since 2015, first by the state and then the feds. But, according to Beale’s comments in court documents, it took more than two years for federal investigators to proceed.

“Cannon was left twisting in the wind,” Beale said in those papers. “ ... She had spent this great deal of time looking over her shoulder.”

Forget the appearance of two clichés so close together. I, for one, couldn’t suppress the urge to guffaw at the utter nonsense of those comments.

Keep in mind the 41-year-old Cannon had been working in Portsmouth Public Schools since 2005. Or that she most recently earned $54,255 annually. (The division forced her to resign Friday after The Pilot asked about her guilty plea.) Prosecutors also noted she had an adjusted gross income of nearly $117,000 in 2013.

Most people would like the chance of “struggling” on a six-figure income. But I digress.

Cannon shouldn’t have stolen money – especially from a public program designed to help poor people who desperately need medical care. Plus, as prosecutors noted in court papers, authorities had to track down her wrongdoing. It wasn’t as if she had a crisis of conscience and sought them out first.

She also lied to investigators, saying she wasn’t involved in the scheme, before quickly recanting and coming clean.

Beale’s line of defense led me to consider all sorts of farcical excuses other defendants’ attorneys might have offered in years past:

Phil Hamilton: “It’s so difficult, Judge, to juggle the responsibilities of crafting legislation as a Newport News delegate in the legislature – while also carving out a paid position at Old Dominion University buttressed by state funds. ‘Tis an enormous burden, knowing that investigators frown on such an arrangement. A burden.”

Anthony Burfoot: “Your honor, the former Norfolk vice mayor has taken hundreds of thousands in bribes for years, not knowing when federal prosecutors might lower the boom. Can you imagine how difficult it became to fulfill his duties as city treasurer – realizing any day could bring handcuffs? Oh, the humanity!”

You get the picture.

Want to know how to avoid “looking over your shoulder?” Don’t break the law in the first place.

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