Editor's note: This story was originally posted Monday afternoon.
WEYBRIDGE — Former Weybridge Town Clerk and Treasurer Karen Brisson appeared in U.S. District Court in Rutland on Monday and pleaded guilty to a charge of federal program embezzlement. Town officials said an audit had determined that she had embezzled $485,000 in town funds since 2006.
Brisson, 50, agreed to pay restitution to the town.
Chief Judge Christina Reiss released Brisson on conditions pending sentencing, which is scheduled for July 18. Brisson faces up to 10 years of imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000 and full restitution for all stolen funds. Her actual sentence will be determined with reference to federal sentencing guidelines. Court documents state that if Brisson honors the provisions of the plea deal, prosecutors will recommend to the court “that she be sentenced to a term of imprisonment at the low end of the sentencing guidelines range,” among other possible sanctions.
Brisson — who served as Weybridge town clerk and treasurer for more than 26 years before resigning in November after admitting her transgressions — embezzled the money primarily be writing checks to herself and depositing the checks into personal accounts, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. After her plea on Monday, the U.S. Probation Office will prepare a pre-sentence report, which will include input from the town, that the court will examine before passing sentence.
Officials had initially believed the amount of missing money to be between $100,000 and $150,000. The town hired the accounting firm of Telling & Associates to conduct a forensic audit of the town’s books. That recently completed audit revealed the larger $485,000 accounting discrepancy dating back to 2006.
Weybridge Selectwoman Gale Hurd said bank records are not available to determine whether any embezzling might have taken place pre-2006, and that the selectboard is ready to participate in the ongoing legal process.
“I am happy that the town of Weybridge and the selectboard will have input into the sentencing document to the pre-sentence investigation,” Hurd said. “I think we’ve all been surprised at the extent of the alleged embezzlement compared to what we were led to believe in November.”
It was earlier this year that Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Waples announced that the case against Brisson would be prosecuted in federal court, as opposed to through the state judicial system.
A charging document in the case file alleges that Brisson embezzled “primarily by issuing — without the knowledge or authorization of town officials — town of Weybridge checks that were made payable to Karen Brisson. Brisson then deposited the unauthorized checks into personal bank accounts she maintained and used the proceeds of those checks for her own benefit.”
Hurd confirmed last Thursday that the town’s municipal insurance policy through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns will cover embezzlement losses up to $500,000, minus a $500 deductible. The insurance policy will not, however, cover related legal fees and the costs of the forensic audit. Hurd said the town will work hard to recoup all of its losses in the case.
“The expectation is that we will be made financially whole,” she said.
Brisson has already offered to give a mortgage on her home to the town as part of her restitution.
“She recognizes that her property needs to go to her criminal debt,” said a member of Brisson’s defense team, attorney Devin McLaughlin of Langrock, Sperry & Wool. Attorney Peter Langrock is also representing Brisson.
McLaughlin said the plea agreement came together smoothly.
“It was fairly straightforward, insofar as it was consistent with Karen’s desire to take responsibility for what happened,” McLaughlin said. “Once the case shifted over to the federal government, this was the next logical step.”
Copies of the draft Brisson plea agreement and other United States District Court documents can be viewed at the Weybridge Town Clerk’s office, said Hurd.
The Weybridge selectboard plans to call a special town meeting later this year to get residents’ input on what to do with the repaid money.
In the meantime, Weybridge officials are taking steps to tighten up the town’s accounting procedures.
“We are going to be looking at changing the way that we do business internally, as far as offering training to our elected auditors and the new town clerk/treasurer,” Hurd said. “We have voted to hire Telling & Associates to do a regular municipal audit for fiscal year 2012-2013, just so we know we are going to be getting off on the right foot.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.