WEYBRIDGE — Longtime Weybridge Town Clerk and Treasurer Karen Brisson on Monday resigned from her job after admitting to the local selectboard that she had been embezzling town funds during the past several years, an amount that the town’s attorney said could range between $100,000 and $150,000, according to preliminary estimates.
Selectboard members said they will not know the exact amount of the missing funds until an outside independent audit of the town’s books is conducted. In the meantime, Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster will review details of the case and weigh possible prosecution options against Brisson — who as of Wednesday had not been cited for a crime. Fenster could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press.
Weybridge Selectwoman Gale Hurd said Brisson admitted culpability and has offered to give a mortgage on her home to the town as restitution. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has informed the selectboard that Weybridge’s insurance policy will cover any losses that Brisson is unable to repay, according to Hurd.
Weybridge Town Counsel Tad Powers said that based on preliminary research, it appears as though Brisson began taking town funds in 2007. He said Brisson has agreed to cooperate with the independent auditor to divulge how she misappropriated the funds. The independent auditor has been hired and is expected to get to work soon, Powers said. He added the selectboard had been talking about commissioning the audit prior to Brisson’s disclosure.
Brisson had served as Weybridge’s town clerk and treasurer for more than 26 years. She is also a longtime Addison County Fair & Field Days board member and an organizer of the fair’s popular arm wrestling tournaments. She herself has won several national and world women’s arm wrestling titles and has traveled extensively competing in the sport.
“Although our first responsibility is to the town and to the recovery of the money taken, we are saddened by Ms. Brisson’s actions as she had served Weybridge well for many, many years,” the selectboard said in a brief statement about the matter.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Brisson declined to offer details on the amount of funds she had taken nor when the misconduct started. But she did offer her apologies to Weybridge residents.
“I deeply regret my actions and I want to apologize to my community, my family and especially the people that I worked with,” she said. “I let everybody down and there was no excuse.”
Brisson is being represented by Middlebury attorney Peter Langrock, who could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. But attorney Devin McLaughlin, also part of Brisson’s defense team, gave the following statement:
“She has come forward, she has admitted what she did, she feels horrible about it in terms of letting the town, her friends and neighbors down. She is going to cooperate fully in any accounting and investigation that’s going to come out of it.”
Meanwhile, the selectboard has appointed Brenda Jaring acting town clerk and treasurer until the next municipal elections on Town Meeting Day. Jaring had been serving as assistant town clerk. Her work schedule going forward is currently being ironed out. In the meantime, Hurd said residents are being asked to leave messages on the town office voice mail to make appointments to transact business.
Some have called for the Legislature to strengthen embezzlement laws in light of a spate of embezzlements from public institutions over the last few years. Cases have included the taking of $1.6 million by the office manager at the Hardwick Electric Company, $490,000 by the supervisor of the Department of Children and Families in Newport, $42,000 by the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union bookkeeper and several hundred thousand dollars in total by municipal clerks in Ira, Bakersfield, Bennington and Isle La Motte.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent,com.
Editor's note: A version of this story posted earlier, and the version in the print edition, incorrectly indicated that an Addison Northwest Supervisory Union bookkeeper had embezzled funds; we corrected it to say Addison Northeast in the version now online.