MACON, Ga. (AP) — After their wedding last fall, Cheryl and Jay Malone opened what they assumed was a box of cards, well-wishes from guests.
They had told people not to buy them gifts.
And from the looks of what was in the box — four cards from a wedding and reception attended by about 75 — no one had.
"I said, 'People really took us at our word,' " the bride recalled. "We were a little surprised, but again we told everyone, 'Don't give us anything.' "
A week or so later, a guy who had attended the nuptials walked up to Cheryl Malone at work.
He said, "I need for you to cash that check."
"What check?" Malone asked.
She soon learned other guests had also written checks or given gift cards. She figured perhaps the items had been misplaced.
They weren't. They were stolen.
An employee at Macon's historic Hay House, where the couple's wedding was held Nov. 8, is accused by law enforcement of pocketing the presents.
According to authorities, the culprit had done it twice at weddings the month before.
Kira Nerys Pope, 19, is charged with three counts of fiduciary theft.
On Thursday, her lawyer, Clarence Williams, asked a Bibb County Superior Court judge to lift a probation hold that's kept her in jail despite her having a $5,800 bond.
The hold stems from allegations that Pope violated terms of her probation. She pleaded guilty to two counts of financial transaction card fraud in September and was sentenced to two years of probation.
Williams argued that some of the money taken in Pope's prior case was used to buy food because she was "essentially homeless" at the time.
Pope, in jail since her Dec. 9 arrest, is now eight-months pregnant, and the baby could be born any day, Williams said.
He said Pope, a graduate of Westside High School, has wanted to go to school and become trained to work in medical coding.
She has cooperated with authorities and her family is working to put together money to pay restitution, Williams said.
Pope wiped away tears as her lawyer explained that her baby's paternal grandmother has offered to take her in if she's released from jail.
The judge agreed to lift Pope's probation hold, but he raised her bond to $10,000 and added a condition that she stay on house arrest with an ankle monitor.
Jonathan Poston, director of the Hay House, on Thursday said Pope was no longer employed there.
Reading from a statement, he said, "We cannot comment on an ongoing criminal investigation. We are very sorry that this occurred. ... The Hay House is working with the bride and groom and law enforcement to verify the amount of the loss so that the couple can be adequately compensated."
Poston declined to comment on the other thefts Pope admitted to committing there.
In the weeks after the Malones' wedding, to find out how much Pope may have stolen, the bride found herself in a delicate situation: asking her wedding guests what, if any, gift they'd given her.
"It's quite awkward. ...'Ohhhh, did you give us anything? What'd you give us?' After the third person that said, 'I'm sorry, I hate to admit that we didn't put anything on your gift table,' I stopped asking," Cheryl Malone said.
But by then she had learned that some $2,000 worth of checks or gift cards had vanished.
"She took my wedding cards, my memories, and threw them in the trash," Malone, 42, said.
"That is what upsets me the most. ... I have not even looked at any of my wedding pictures or printed any of them because it's just become a pain."
Malone said she asked the Hay House to reimburse her the $2,800 rental fee for her wedding and reception. She said the only way the Hay House would compensate her was if she gave a form to guests to fill out, listing their gifts and then getting the list notarized.
"They are making me jump through hoops when their employee has done this on more than one occasion, and I'm furious," Malone said.
Information from: The Macon Telegraph, http://www.macontelegraph.com