Embezzlement in Brockton area — Crime of trust
By Elaine Allegrini
Mon Feb 23, 2009, 02:18 AM EST
BROCKTON - Embezzlement — the crime of taking money you are entrusted to protect.
Trusted colleagues take money, first a few dollars, then more and more. They might intend to pay it back, but it becomes overwhelming.
The perpetrators “become sloppy and that’s when they get caught,” said Jo-Ann Della Guistina, professor of criminal justice at Bridgewater State College and an attorney.
The victims may be nonprofits, community organizations, religious groups, small businesses or big corporations. For the most part, all they want is restitution. Some will prosecute, some won’t.
As authorities investigate the missing thousands of dollars from a Brockton municipal union fund, some wonder who would steal from an employer, organization or nonprofit, and why.
There have been several local cases in recent years.
In Whitman, Nancy Feakins took $110,000 from the town collector’s office and went to jail for a year. In Brockton, Christine Peterson took $15,000 from the Hancock Parent Advisory Council, but didn’t face charges. Thomas J. O’Brien of Pembroke took $22,000 from the Brockton Parking Authority. He pleaded guilty in 1999 and received a two-year suspended sentence and was ordered to make restitution. Susan M. Taylor, formerly Susan Donadio, of Middleboro took an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 from the Community Christmas Fund and the Middleboro Parish Outreach for which the court ordered her to make restitution of $15,000 after she pleaded guilty in 2006.Eileen C. Whitman of Hanson was charged in 2006 with taking more than $2,000 from the Parent Teacher Organization and accused of taking another $1,900 from the Girl Scouts.
Now, Brockton’s Local 1162 of the Laborers International Union of North America, representing 400 clerical and other city workers, is missing up to $30,000.
Union President Winnifred Petkunas said she discovered discrepancies in the account about two weeks ago when she received statements in preparation for a U.S. Department of Labor compliance audit. She immediately reported it to the Plymouth County district attorney’s office and to regional union officials.
The money represents the local portion of the $32.50 a month dues that members pay. No charges have been filed in the case and no suspects have been named.
Meanwhile, Susan Elliot of Lakeville, a longtime employee in the city auditor’s office and 10-year secretary-treasurer of the union, resigned last week, citing health reasons. She has been on sick leave since early January.
Elliot could not be reached for comment.
Della Giustina, the Bridgewater professor, said there are two kinds of embezzlement — entitlement and economic.
“The dream is to be rich, for some people it’s a goal,” she said. “When an opportunity opens, they take it.”
Then, there’s the economic embezzlement. As the economy weakens, she sees thefts and fraud increasing and that’s where gender enters the picture.
“You see more women in economic crimes,” said Della Guistina, noting that women are in positions where money is accessible.
It starts small, even $1 or less, she said. “They think they’re going to pay it back,” she said.
But, times are tough. The economy is tanking, a lot of people are hurting financially. For some, it’s a matter of money to live. For others, they see retirement money disappearing.
“They don’t know where to turn,” she said.
The scheme becomes easier with time, the amounts bigger. They’re not as careful, don’t cover their tracks. And, then they get caught.
Della Giustina said white-collar businesses, especially banks, are unlikely to prosecute. Others may start the prosecution, but eventually make a deal.
“When they do prosecute, they usually want to make an example of the person,” she said.
Elaine Allegrini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org