Bakersfield Residents Testify At Sentencing of Former Town Treasurer
ST. ALBANS, Vt. (AP) _ Bakersfield’s former treasurer was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after residents testified at an emotional hearing that they felt betrayed over her role in the disappearance of $500,000 in public funds.
″I never wanted to hurt so many people,″ Linda Hall, 42, said in a statement read by her lawyer, Charon True. Her statement said she was a compulsive spender.
″Before I realized it, there was so much money gone that I could never dream of paying it back,″ the statement said. ″Believe me, if there were a way of turning back the clock I would do it.″
She was charged with 127 felony counts after the money disappeared. Under a plea bargain, she agreed to plead no contest to three counts, including one that is akin to embezzlement.
The town of 850 people was designated a victim under Vermont’s new victims’ rights law, and Judge Joseph Wolchik heard four hours of testimony from townspeople who crowded the sentence hearing in Franklin County District Court.
Zilda Maynard, a former longtime auditor in the rural town, told the packed courtroom 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’ve lost my trust. I don’t feel I can trust anyone anymore, except for my family.″
Hall, the town clerk and treasurer for 13 years, lives with her family about a half-mile from the center of Bakersfield, but for many in the courtroom, it was the first encounter with her in more than a year.
″I, like the rest of the folks in town, trusted Linda very much,″ said Rupert Montague, the town moderator, who has known her since she was a girl. ″It was quite a jolt. ... But I prefer restitution as punishment. I don’t feel any lengthy jail term would do any good.″
Hall burst into tears. Montague continued, ″She had a lot of friends in town. She has a heart of gold. If anybody needed anything, Linda was there.″
Holden Doane, a farmer, town trustee of public funds and lifelong Bakersfield resident, said the missing funds will hurt the town for years to come.
″I feel with any crime, any sin, that there needs to be both punishment and penitence,″ he said. ″And then there needs to be forgiveness.″
Hall covered her face and again began to sob.
Donald Clowes, chairman of the school board, presented charts to the court detailing the financial impact of the missing funds. He said the town has been forced to increase taxes and borrow about $400,000 to offset the loss.
He said the owner of a $60,000 home had an additional $198 property tax in the current fiscal year because of the shortfall.
″The people of the town of Bakersfield, each and every one of them, is a victim of this crime. This crime has caused a dramatic financial injury to the taxpayers of Bakersfield,″ said county prosecutor Howard VanBenthuysen.
Wolchik rejected as evidence a petition signed by 443 residents calling for a tougher sentence.
The judge ordered her 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 jail term May 6, despite her plea to enter custody in June, after two of her children graduate from high school.
VanBenthuysen said he planned to ask for $226,000 restitution, the amount officials could trace directly to Hall. Still pending is a Superior Court suit seeking restitution that was filed by town officials before the plea bargain.
″Justice is not being served the victims of Bakersfield when 127 counts are dropped to only three,″ the petition said. ″The residents and taxpayers of the town of Bakersfield have been sentenced to a minimum of 20 years to repay this money.″
VanBenthuysen said the money is gone. ″The money was frittered away in household appliances, goods, vacations, cars for the kids,″ he said. ″There are no pots of gold, no hidden treasures stashed away.″
The prosecutor said he believed a long jail term was not the best answer for Hall, but that full restitution would be appropriate.
″I would like to see her pay back the money for the rest of her working lifetime,″ VanBenthuysen said.