Former Town Treasurer Sentenced To Three Years
ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) _ A former town treasurer who received a three-year prison term in connection with the disappearance of nearly $500,000 in public funds listened in tears as friends and neighbors testified at a sentencing hearing.
″The people of the town of Bakersfield, each and every one of them, is a victim of this crime,″ county prosecutor Howard VanBenthuysen said at Tuesday’s Franklin County District Court sentencing hearing for Linda Hall.
The town has been forced to increase taxes and borrow about $400,000 to offset the loss, said Donald Clowes, chairman of the Bakersfield school board. The owner of a $60,000 home had an additional $198 property tax in the current fiscal year because of the shortfall, he said.
″I hope that someday people can find it in their hearts to forgive me,″ said Hall, 42, in a statement read by her lawyer, Charon True. Her statement said she was a compulsive spender.
Hall, the Bakersfield town clerk and treasurer for 13 years, was charged with 127 felony counts.
Under a plea bargain, she agreed to plead no contest to three of the counts, including one that is akin to embezzlement. The agreement called for three years in prison, $226,000 in restitution and 30 years’ probation.
The town of 850 people was designated a victim under the new law, and Judge Joseph Wolchik heard four hours of testimony from residents who crowded into the court.
A dozen residents took the stand, including some who urged Wolchik not to sentence Hall to a long prison term. Wolchik rejected as evidence a petition signed by 443 residents calling for a tougher sentence.
Zilda Maynard, a former longtime auditor in the rural town, told the court that Hall was one of her closest friends until the shortfall was discovered 13 months ago.
″I was a very loyal, loving person, but since this has happened, I’ve become a bitter person,″ she said, brushing tears from her face.
″I, like the rest of the folks in town, trusted Linda very much,″ said Rupert Montague, the town moderator. ″It was quite a jolt. ... But I prefer restitution as punishment. I don’t feel any lengthy jail term would do any good.″
Hall then burst into tears.
″I feel with any crime, any sin, that there needs to be both punishment and penitence,″ said Holden Doane, a town trustee and lifelong Bakersfield resident. ″And then there needs to be forgiveness.″
Hall covered her face and again began to sob.
Wolchik ordered Hall to undergo counseling and said a restitution hearing will be held six months after Hall is released from prison, at which time the exact amount of the missing money will be determined.
The judge also ordered her to begin her incarceration May 6, despite her plea to enter custody in June, after two of her children graduate from high school.
The prosecutor said he believed full restitution would be appropriate.
″I would like to see her pay back the money for the rest of her working lifetime,″ VanBenthuysen said.