Saturday, July 20, 2013

Few embezzlers from local PTAs and other charitable groups go to jail


When former Middleboro school PTA president Sharon Ellis pleaded guilty recently to stealing $18,167 from a PTA account, she was ordered to pay the money back and placed on probation.
She never served jail time.
Neither did two Brockton school organization leaders involved in similar embezzlement cases in the past several years.
In 2008, the Hancock School Parent Advisory Council determined $15,000 was missing from an account. The treasurer, Christine Peterson, resigned, paid the money back and did not spend a single day in jail.
In 2009, Sharon Nelligan pleaded guilty to stealing $50,979 from the Brockton High School Athletic Department, where she was the secretary. She paid the money back and was sentenced to five years probation, but no jail time.
Was this sufficient to punish the perpetrator and possibly deter others from committing these kind of thefts?
Local prosecutors say that if the defendant goes to jail, it’s much less likely the organization will get its money back.
“If the victim is looking to get paid back, and the defendant is incarcerated, they are not able to do that, and that’s a harm to victim,” said Plymouth County Assistant District Attorney Bridget Norton Middleton.
According to the American Bar Association’s website, sentences in embezzlement cases may depend on the value of the property that was stolen.
However, the group adds that most people convicted of embezzlement serve much less time than the maximum, perhaps even less than one year.
However, according to the Bar Association, embezzlers still may suffer severe consequences because their careers may have been destroyed.
“White-collar criminals never again regain the trust of employers, and that loss of professional and personal credibility will likely be the most damaging penalty,” according to the association. .
Mitch Librett, a Bridgewater State University criminal justice professor and a longtime police officer, said he doubts jail time would prevent similar crimes from happening.
“In my experience, I don’t think the prospect of getting caught and doing time is a deterrent,” Librett said.
Typically these crimes are not punished as street crimes, and since many perpetrators don’t have prior criminal records, the sentencing guidelines tend to be less harsh when offenders are caught.
But, he added, “There can be certain aspects of probation that can be way more punitive than jail.”
Ellis, the Middleboro PTA embezzler who was ordered to make restitution, was also sentenced to five years probation, ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and provide a DNA sample and is not allowed to work for an organization that engages in fundraising.

“We recommended that she be found guilty of a felony, put on two years probation, pay full restitution, attend Debtors Anonymous and get any counseling deemed necessary,” said Middleton.
The judge in the Ellis case raised her sentence to five years probation.
“The recommendation that we made in this case (Ellis) was appropriate in this circumstance, and we think the victims are very pleased with her sentence,” said Middleton.
According to Coria Holland, communications director for the Massachusetts Probation Service, Ellis is under the lowest level of probation, which is administrative supervision.
Holland said administrative supervision is exercised in cases in which the primary purpose of the court’s order is the enforcement of the collection of money and/or any specific court orders.
Ellis’s probation has a scheduled completion date of June 26, 2018. She must also pay a monthly $50 probation fee and a onetime $90 victim-witness fee.

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