By Don Keelan
Judge David C. Norton may be a long way from Vermont when presiding as the U.S.District Court Judge, in Charleston, South Carolina. According to NewsObserver.com, the judge did not mince words when earlier this year he rendered a sentence in what was South Carolina’s largest ever embezzlement case.
According to published reports by Jenny Peterson and others, Brantley Thomas, the former chief financial officer of the Berkeley County School District, spanning a 16-year period, stole over $1.2 million. Judge Norton sentenced Thomas to 63 months in federal prison and to make restitution of $1,232,106 to the BCSD.
The judge went on to note that Thomas, and others (who steal) have an OPM addiction—the taking of “Other People’s Money.” The state of South Carolina did not think anything less of Thomas’s crime and placed an additional sentence of nearly five more years in prison. The 61-year-old Thomas will have a difficult time making restitution.
According to an online summary of Vermont criminal law, specifically, Title 13, Chapter 57 (larceny and embezzlement), the following is noted: “If the money or property embezzled exceeds $100 in value, the person shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years or fined not more than $10,000, or both.” The statute might have just as well been adopted for the inhabitants on Mars for all its relevancy in Vermont.
As I have noted in this column, the most lucrative way to make money in Vermont is to embezzle it. It is a truism today as it has been for years — the above noted statute is for the most part, ignored.
For many who engage or have engaged in embezzlement, it is an addiction and the courts should deal with those who have the addiction. Is full restitution, a long prison sentence and income tax recovery the proper way to deal with convicted embezzlers?
Several recent Vermont cases are noteworthy. According to Ellie French’s piece on Oct. 22 in VTDigger, “A former state tax examiner has pleaded guilty to embezzling just over $15,000 from the Vermont Department of taxes.” The sentence handed out was not anywhere near the maximum 10 years in prison noted in the criminal statute, but 90 days of home confinement. I should note that the defendant’s physical health (pregnancy) was a factor. There was no indication if income tax evasion charges were filed.
The recent guilty plea by the defendant in the Lyndonville $2.2 million embezzlement (which dwarfs the BCSD case in S.C.) comes up for sentencing in February 2020. Up to now the only restitution that has been made was the confiscation of some motor vehicles. This case had also spanned a long period of time, 10 years or more.The income taxes due on the ill gotten gains alone amount to over a quarter of a million dollars.
It is not my prerogative to interfere in what the federal court will decide what sentence to give the defendant in the Lyndonville theft. However, one thing is clear to me when it comes to the sentencing of those convicted of embezzlement in Vermont — it does not recognize the impact of the crime.
The embezzlement is committed quite frequently, especially against small municipalities, businesses and nonprofits. Past punishments don’t come anywhere near what is in the statute. If embezzlement is determined to be an addiction, then let’s deal with it as such.
Vermont has been overwhelmed physically, emotionally and financially in having to deal with drug addition, alcohol and gambling addition (the latter is what most of the funds were used for in the Lyndonville case) and, most recently, video games addiction.
If Judge Norton is correct in his findings, that embezzlement is an addiction to stealing other peoples money, it needs to be addressed. Reporter Peterson goes on to note that Thomas, while awaiting sentencing in the BCSD theft, took a position with a Charleston eye vision center. He has been accused of stealing $37,655 from the center.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.
7 thoughts on “Keelan: Vermont does not recognize the impact of embezzlement”
“Bad Education” a new movie starring Hugh Jackman, playing Frank Tassone, is based on Tassone’s fraud in the Roslyn school district and his (with Glucken) $11 million theft from Roslyn townspeople. Let it be a warning!
The BCSD $1.2 million case is itself dwarfed by that in the village of Roslyn, NY school district where its superintendent, Frank Tassone and his secretary Pamela Glucken, made off with over $11 million!
The board of one of the wealthiest school districts in the nation, served by top corporate attorneys in NYC had no suspicions they said because their students were scoring so well on nationwide testing. A perfect foil for thievery. Once embezzlement began to appear, the board, fearing enmity from the townspeople, settled with Glucken to keep the story quiet. She made restitution of $250,000 and left. No report was made to local police or prosecutors nor the district’s insurance company. Big mistakes! Evidence kept appearing of a wider fraud, Tassone, was busted and Roslyn was in trouble with little recourse. Board members themselves found themselves personally liable, one losing her home in order to defend herself. Eventually the NY State Comptroller, Allen Hevesi investigated. His report and recommendations are instructive to all school districts (cities & states) who think “it won’t happen here”.
The checks and balances recommended (and adopted) reduce fraud and embezzlement risk greatly .
Ironically, Hevesi resigned the following year after being charged, himself, with similar fraud. He escaped prison in a deal with AG Eliot Spitzer, who thereafter, found himself embroiled in a scandal that cost him his job.
Vermont State Auditor and Comptroller positions are critical to the oversight of our state. I particularly appreciate the work Randy Brock has done!
Dear Mr. Keegan,
You have written so many great articles, well thought out and factual. I am very surprised that you would write such an erroneous piece. Montpelier know very well how the impact of embezzelement, it’s only one of their special powers,film flam numbers, misleading statistics, cronyism, intentional misleading information, and hiding the numerical truth.
It’s one of their special powers, to which they think the public doesn’t notice, and sadly manny don’t and they are totally given cover by a less than inquisitive press. 🙂
It would serve Vermonters exceeding well to have a man like you in office.
It is sad when we as a society equate illegal actions as addictions………..with this mindset then no one really does anything wrong and it is made an acceptable behavior……….there is no right or wrong anymore. We are doomed as a society.
Stealing is stealing. They use a pen instead of a gun often with more harm done. Give them the max.
If imbezzelement is considered an addiction, the poor babies should be put in rehab along with the alchies and druggies. As for the stolen funds, the judge should tell them to have a nice day. Only in Vermont, come one come all and get an additional $10,000.
This issue is completely un or under reported in the media, because much of it (contrary to what the author states) happens in large cities (not so much in small town or in just small scale in small towns). But there are millions of Federal tax dollars given to many large cities that is total unaccounted for. As you might think, they are mostly Democrat minority run. New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore, Oakland etc. The list goes on and on. Corruption is rampant in these cities and no one says a word.
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