BANGOR, Maine — The Penobscot County grand jury on Wednesday indicted a former Newburgh town official for embezzling nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds, said District Attorney R. Christopher Almy.
Cindy Dunton of Newburgh is charged with Class B theft by unauthorized taking and faces a Dec. 9 court appearance in the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. Almy said the charge against Dunton, who was fired as Newburgh’s deputy clerk and treasurer after the alleged thefts were discovered in March, is the most serious form of larceny there is and is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In addition to prison time, Almy said if Dunton is convicted, he will ask the court to impose a restitution schedule for her to begin paying back the stolen money, plus more than $50,000 in attorney and auditor fees incurred by the town of Newburgh.
“It’s a very strong case,” said Almy. “The people of Newburgh are really mad, and I don’t blame them. Not only did she steal their money, but she broke their trust.”
Dunton, 48, has not been arrested and is free until her court appearance, according to Almy, who said she has been cooperative and is not considered a flight risk.
Neither Dunton nor her attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, returned calls from the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday.
Leonard Belcher, who is Newburgh’s first selectmen, said he was pleased with Dunton’s indictment, though he never doubted that it would happen eventually.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “She manipulated and used us to her benefit.”
The alleged embezzlement scheme was exposed just before the March town meeting, when Dunton was unable to answer questions from selectmen about discrepancies in the town’s financial records. Dunton was subsequently fired and the town hired a forensic auditor, Robert Brown of Bangor, to investigate. Brown found a total of $199,536.54 allegedly stolen by Dunton between Jan. 1, 2006, and the end of 2009. The time period examined by Brown was restricted to those dates by Newburgh selectmen in an effort to limit the cost to the town.
Dunton and her husband, Alan, signed a promissory note with the town in June, in which Cindy Dunton said she committed the thefts and both Duntons agreed to pay the money back. The agreement allowed the town to put a lien against the Duntons’ real estate property.
A summary of an interview with Dunton conducted by Maine State Police, which was made public for the first time Wednesday, details how Dunton accomplished the thefts for so long without being caught. They also reveal a deep sense of remorse expressed by Dunton to investigators.
According to the summary, the thefts started when the Duntons began to fall behind financially, which Cindy Dunton attributed to medical bills and fines stemming from a 2006 operating under the influence conviction for Alan Dunton.
Dunton issued checks to herself, her husband and her husband’s business, either signing them by hand or using a signature stamp to which she had exclusive access.
“It’s a hard thing to say and to admit to, but it started a couple years ago,” Dunton said to investigators, according to the interview summary.
To cover up the thefts, Dunton allegedly gave selectmen fictitious spending warrants to sign, then later forged their signatures on rewritten warrants to make the books balance. The forgeries were part of how selectmen uncovered the thefts, said Belcher.
“That was the first thing we found,” said Belcher. “I, for one, felt really violated by that.”
To skirt the town’s annual audit, Dunton erased the fraudulent checks from the town’s computer system and printed a report. When the auditors were through, she restored the checks into the system using a backup copy, according to the interview summary.
“This is one of the most serious ones because of the amount of money involved, the time involved and the fairly brazen nature of it,” said Almy. “Small towns depend on just a few individuals to be trustworthy, and she took advantage of that situation.”
Signs that something was amiss began to emerge last year when a group of concerned citizens — some of whom call themselves “The Fixers” or “Concerned Citizens of Newburgh” — began requesting financial data from the town. One of the people involved, Claude Bolduc, said Wednesday that his group has found several of what he called “questionable transactions” before 2006, which he said could possibly increase the amount of money Dunton stole. When she was fired in March, she had been working for the town for 12 years.
“There are some questionable transactions that should be looked at by someone who is more qualified than I am,” said Bolduc. “We would love the opportunity to present this to Chris Almy.”
Almy said he’s open to any new evidence in the case, but will act on it only if it’s credible.
“If there was theft before 2006, we don’t have any evidence of that,” he said. “We’re not going to prosecute on the basis of innuendo, rumors and conjecture.”
Some residents have called for the prosecution of selectmen and former Town Manager Nancy Hatch under a law that requires town officials to keep track of finances. Almy said he doesn’t see that as a criminal matter.
“My job is to look at criminal conduct,” said Almy. “The fact that someone wasn’t as diligent as they should have been does not make it criminal.”
Bolduc said he hopes Dunton serves at least six years in prison — a number he arrived at by dividing her Newburgh salary by the $250,000 she owes the town — but that doesn’t mean he has no sympathy for her.
“There are no winners here, and I’m not a witch-burner,” he said. “I feel sorry for Cindy in a way for the terrible choices she has made. Her life is ruined.”
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.