WEYBRIDGE — Former Weybridge Town Clerk Karen Brisson asked for forgiveness from the many whose bond of trust she broke by embezzling more than $400,000 in taxpayers’ funds over six years, a crime for which she was sentenced to two years in prison on July 18 by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss.
“All of the suffering and pain I am going through is self-inflicted. That doesn’t make it less painful,” Brisson told those present during her sentencing proceeding in federal court in Rutland.
“I have, and am again, apologizing to my community,” she added. “I am conflicted about this because I don’t feel like saying ‘I’m sorry’ is good enough. I really don’t know how I could have done this to all of you.”
Brisson, 51, will also have to pay her community and its insurance company $431,812.06 in restitution, following her guilty plea to having embezzled funds from the town’s coffers over a period of at least six years. She’ll also be subject to three years of supervised release when she leaves prison. She will begin serving her sentence on Sept. 3, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples, who prosecuted the case.
Brisson, 51, served as Weybridge’s clerk/treasurer for more than 26 years before resigning last November after admitting to having embezzled municipal funds. An ensuing forensic audit of the town’s books revealed the magnitude of that embezzlement: An estimated $485,000 since 2006.
According to court records, Brisson was the authorized signer on the town’s checking accounts. Prosecutors alleged that Brisson embezzled funds from around 2006 through late 2012, primarily by writing checks to herself and depositing the checks into personal accounts.
Brisson accepted a plea deal in the case prior to hersentencing on Thursday.
The town selectboard has tentatively set a special meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 10, at which voters will decide how to allocate its insurance reimbursement of $475,980 in connection with the embezzlement case.
Weybridge received its insurance settlement through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Reiss established a restitution priority list that places Weybridge first in line for compensation, specifically for the $19,019 it has spent on audits and legal fees associated with the case. The VLCT is next in line, for an amount of $412,793.06.
Brisson’s attorney, Devin McLaughlin of Langrock, Sperry & Wool, said his client has placed her home on the market in an effort to begin restitution. He said Brisson will focus on selling, or at least renting that asset, prior to beginning her prison term on Sept. 3.
Brisson does not yet know where she will serve out her sentence, though it will certainly not be in Vermont, as there is no federal prison for women in the Green Mountain State. But McLaughlin said Brisson is grateful that the court agreed to place her in the lowest-security facility available.
Brisson could get 15 percent of her sentence shaved off for good behavior, according to McLaughlin.
“From our perspective, we believe that the two-year sentence is reasonable and fair,” said McLaughlin, who had lobbied for one year. “It was at the bottom end of the (federal sentencing) guidelines range calculated for Karen’s crime.”
Weybridge officials were also satisfied with the sentence that Reiss imposed.
“I think we are all happy this case is resolved,” said Weybridge selectboard member Gale Hurd, who this past March extended her tenure on the board in order to see the case brought to its conclusion. She will retire from the board this fall.
“The judge was extremely thorough and professional,” she added. “We were happy that in ordering restitution, she ordered the town of Weybridge (to be compensated) before the VLCT.”
Court documents made public on Thursday indicate Brisson’s admission of embezzlement and subsequent resignation on Nov. 13 came after an anonymous resident alleged that Brisson had taken $9,000 in town funds. The board informed Brisson it would order an audit of the town’s books in order to clear up the allegation, which Brisson at the time denied, according to court records. Reiss, during sentencing, voiced concern that Brisson confessed to the embezzlement only after learning that an audit was imminent. She also noted that, with more than $400,000 involved, it became one of the largest municipal embezzlement cases to have come before federal court in Vermont.
Court documents also included a “victim impact statement” from the town of Weybridge.
That impact statement, prepared in consultation with town officials, alleges that the final five years of Brisson’s tenure were “problematic and disruptive,” with the office “often closed during open hours” or staffed by substitutes who were at times not able to give customers the assistance they needed.
“In addition to her embezzlement of $476,480.00, we are now discovering many areas in which certain things were required to be done under state and federal regulations that were either not done or done incorrectly,” the impact statement reads. “This has caused a huge amount of extra work and expense for the Town.”
Officials, in the impact statement, summed up the public’s evolving impression of the case: “At first, the public reaction in our town of 800-plus was total shock, coupled with concern for Karen; she was a friend to all,” the statement reads. “However, once the forensic audit uncovered a final figure of $476,480, public sentiment shifted. While people still care about Karen and are concerned for her health and welfare, they are now angry at the amount of money she stole and at the duration of the crime. Townspeople are dismayed that someone who had been so trusted and admired completely betrayed the public trust for so many years.”
Selectboard members said they believed that, overall, Brisson proved to be “very bright and a hard worker,” adding they hoped she will get “whatever help she needs to be healthy and productive in the future.”
But they added theirs to the chorus of voices that have been asking a question that Brisson has not yet answered.
“What was (the money) spent on?” the board asks in the impact statement. “She appears to have nothing concrete to show for any of what she took.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]