A federal judge said June 7 that a former New Albany interior designer accused of fraudulently billing a couple and not reporting the extra $600,000 as income on her tax return needs to be behind bars.

But he also had to weigh Connie L. Christy's lack of a prior criminal record and the cancer treatments she said have left her sick and in pain.

"This case really calls for a jail sentence," U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. said, but he later questioned whether Christy was a good candidate for prison because of her health issues.

"It's treatable," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Knight said.

A pre-sentencing report recommended a prison term of 18 to 24 months. Prosecutors asked for two years. The defense sought probation.

Sargus ended up sentencing Christy to four months in prison, minus 33 days for the time she had spent in jail. She has 50 days to report to prison.

She also must pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $124,000 for taxes owed on the $600,000.

After prison, Christy, 63, must serve three years on supervised release, which will include four months in a halfway house and three months on house arrest.

"She possessed the intelligence and wherewithal to provide for her family by legal means," but chose otherwise, Knight said.

"It was not over-billing, it was fraudulent billing," she said.

A federal grand jury indicted Christy on 44 charges in 2015. She pleaded guilty to tax evasion in June 2016 and prosecutors dropped the other 43 charges, including wire fraud and money laundering.

Sargus noted that he was sentencing Christy only for tax evasion. Although the money was the product of a crime, it's "not like hitting someone on the head with a pipe and stealing their money."

"We were prepared for trial," Rasheeda Khan, an assistant federal public defender, told Sargus.

After the hearing, Christy said, "I didn't want to continue to go through this."

Christy said the project for which she billed the couple was complex. She said they wanted a toxic-free environment for the husband, which required rare materials and specialized work. The couple sent her thousands of emails about changes but rarely were available to discuss them.

"I believe I did nothing wrong," she said in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch.

The government said that after signing a contract with the couple, Christy kept asking for more money, "under the guise that the contractors had forgotten to include all items in their quotes or that the retailers that the defendant used and paid had gone out of business before providing the materials."

Prosecutors also said she billed for working 20 1/2 hours on the project on May 29, 2011, when she actually was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with her daughter.

"I worked all the time," Christy told the Dispatch. "I was probably on the phone working on the project or was dealing with emails from them."

Prosecutors said Christy asked a vendor for a "fake invoice." Christy said in her newspaper interview that she wanted to compile all the invoices into a single package.

Prosecutors said she could not provide receipts for the almost $1.6 million she had charged and received from her clients. Kahn had said Christy was a poor record-keeper.

The couple sued Christy and settled with her for almost $1 million.

Prosecutors said she has not paid anything toward the settlement.

erinehart@dispatch.com

@esrinehart