NEWBURGH, Maine — A former town employee bilked the town out of nearly $200,000 over a span of three years, according to a certified fraud examiner’s report released Friday.
Cindy Dunton, the town’s former deputy town clerk, illegally diverted taxpayer money to bolster her salary, cover her health insurance premiums, pay her property taxes and to conduct a range of other transactions, according to a 13-page report released by the town on Friday. In all, according to the report, Dunton made away with $199,536.54.
“Shock isn’t the word for it,” said First Selectman Leonard Belcher when asked about his reaction to the alleged thefts. “I don’t know if there is a word to describe how this feels. You walk in every day and do what you’re doing and then you find out this.”
The issue came to light on March 11 when Belcher and fellow Selectman Stanley Smith discovered discrepancies between the selectmen’s report and treasurer’s report in the 2009 town report. When they asked Dunton to clarify the situation, she allegedly went into her office and came back with reports that differed from ones previously provided.
“The selectmen were not satisfied with the explanations and became suspicious of the changing nature of the numbers,” reads the auditor’s report, which was prepared by Robert N. Brown, a certified fraud examiner. Brown’s investigation initially focused on 2009, but soon spread back to Jan. 1, 2006. The investigation turned up a range of ways Dunton allegedly stole from the town, ranging from shifting money around in various accounts to forging selectmen’s names on checks. In one instance, a delivery arrived at the town office containing a set of shaper drill bits. When questioned, Dunton admitted to using the town’s credit card for the order and promised to pay the money back, according to the report.
Brown’s investigation found at least 17 unauthorized checks made out to Cindy Dunton or her husband, Alan Dunton, ranging from $2,800 to $21,500.
Dale Thistle, a Newport-based attorney who is representing both of the Duntons, said Alan Dunton “had no idea this was taking place.”
“Alan had no part in this whatsoever,” said Thistle. “I don’t expect him to be charged with anything.”
Penobscot County District Attorney Chris Almy said Friday that the case had not yet been submitted to his office by investigators for the Maine State Police, nor had any charges been levied against Cindy Dunton or anyone else. Almy said whether charges will result likely will be decided by a grand jury.
“We expect Cindy Dunton will be charged,” said Almy. “That’s the only person we are talking about right now.”
Both Dunton and former Town Manager Nancy Hatch resigned over the incident, according to Selectman Belcher. Hatch is not implicated in the fraud, according to the auditor’s report, but according to Dunton she knew about some of the financial discrepancies and did not bring them to the attention of selectmen.
Cindy Dunton has cooperated fully with the investigation and has admitted to the fraud, according to the report. Thistle said she intends to repay the money she stole.
“She is taking full responsibility for this,” said Thistle. “It’s her intent to pay back all of the monies. The best way to serve herself is to fully comply with the town’s audit, fully cooperate with the town’s attorney and fully comply with all of the questions. She has done all of that. She has been incredibly remorseful, and the best defense is absolute honesty.”
Cindy Dunton did not return a call from the Bangor Daily News on Friday afternoon.
Belcher said new measures have been put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again. The impact of the thefts on town coffers is that there is less of a surplus, which in normal times would be used for emergency spending or to reduce taxes at budget time.
“It’s kind of put us in a strap a little bit,” he said. “We’re being more careful with how we spend our money and what we spend our money on.”
Belcher said the issue would be discussed at length during a Board of Selectmen meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Newburgh Elementary School.