NEWBURGH, Maine — Residents reacted with fury Monday night to the details of a financial investigation that revealed a $200,000 embezzlement spree dating back to 2006.
Approximately 125 people turned out Monday night to learn more details about alleged thefts by former Deputy Town Clerk and Treasurer Cindy Dunton. The meeting began at 6 p.m. and nearly three hours later, was still going strong with numerous residents still waiting for their piece to be heard. While some people asked questions designed to better understand the situation, others were intent on laying blame on everyone from former Town Manager Nancy Hatch to the town’s three selectmen.
In general, though, no one disputed that the person with the most blame is Cindy Dunton. Town attorney Dean Beaupain, who led most of the meeting, said Dunton may well be responsible for more than the $199,536.54 that was identified in an auditor’s report that was released to the public on Friday. That’s because the original scope of the investigation included only 2009, but then expanded back three years. With that investigation already costing the town some $50,000 in attorney and auditors’ fees, Beaupain said he made the decision to limit the investigation.
“We had a budget to work with,” he said in response to a question from the audience about why the investigation didn’t stretch back to 1999, when Dunton was hired. “I made that call because I thought we had found the fish we were looking for.”
Beaupain said repeatedly that any criminal proceedings against Dunton are the in the hands of the Maine State Police and eventually, Penobscot County District Attorney Chris Almy.
In an effort to recover as much of the stolen money as possible, Beaupain is recommending to selectmen that they sign a document in which Dunton admits to the crimes and states that she and her husband, Alan, will repay the money. The document, which the Duntons already have signed, had not yet been signed by selectmen at 8:30 p.m. Monday as the hearing continued into the late evening. The document was characterized as a promissory note that would impose a lien on the Duntons’ home until they repay the money.
Many in the audience urged selectmen not to strike any deals with her.
“Let’s stop right now and leave Cindy to the law,” said Doreen Bradley to widespread cheers. “It’s time that I think we stop trusting her, stop believing her and stop trying to make it any easier for her.”
Most of the first hour of the meeting focused on former Town Manager Nancy Hatch, who some accused of negligence for not properly overseeing the town’s financial data. Hatch, who along with Dunton resigned from her job in the wake of the scandal, knew about some of Dunton’s misdeeds as far back as November 2009, but didn’t report them to selectmen because she was trying to work with Dunton to have the money repaid, according to First Selectman Leonard Belcher.
“Nancy needs to be punished just as much as Cindy does, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jennie Ross to the assembly.
Beaupain said the decision about how and whether to pursue Hatch on legal grounds lies with the town.
“At some point in the future the selectmen will decide whether to sue her,” said Beaupain. No one has been charged in the case to date and Almy told the Bangor Daily News on Friday that Cindy Dunton is “the only person we are talking about right now.”
Newport-based attorney Dale Thistle, who represents the Duntons, has said Alan Dunton knew nothing about his wife’s alleged misdeeds, but has agreed to help her repay the money.
Selectwoman Leona Smith said she hoped more people would help make that decision than the three-person select board.
“It’s going to be up to the townspeople where we go with Nancy Hatch,” said Smith. Some in the audience blamed the selectmen for not being diligent enough in watching the town’s finances, while others disagreed. “I have a hard time standing here listening to people point fingers at our selectmen, who we put in there,” said Sandy McQuilkin. “Do we really have to clear these people? These are people we know.”
But to that, several in the audience yelled, “We knew Cindy Dunton, too.”