BANGOR, Maine — Cindy Dunton cited her desire to “heal the wounds” within the town of Newburgh on Monday when she pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $200,000 in taxpayer funds.
In her second court appearance since her crimes became public in March 2010, Dunton entered a guilty plea to the charge of Class B theft by unauthorized taking and waived her right to a trial by jury. That means the next step in her case is a sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.
“I want to accept responsibility,” Dunton told Superior Court Justice William Anderson. “I hope my desire to accept responsibility helps heal the wounds I have caused to the people of Newburgh.”
Dunton was Newburgh’s deputy clerk and treasurer until March 2010, when she was fired after selectmen discovered financial discrepancies in town records. The town then hired a forensic accountant, who found that Dunton stole $199,536.54 between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2009. The accountant found that Dunton paid her property taxes and health care premiums from taxpayer funds and wrote numerous checks to herself and her husband, Alan Dunton. Alan Dunton has not been charged in connection with the case. According to Cindy Dunton’s attorney, Dale Thistle, Alan Dunton was unaware that fraudulent checks were being deposited in his business account because his wife had control of the account.
Dunton admitted to her embezzlement spree in June 2010, when she signed a promissory note with the town in which she agreed to pay the money back, plus more than $50,000 in expenses the town incurred in attorney and auditor fees. The charge of Class B theft by unauthorized taking, the most serious theft charge there is in Maine, carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Thistle told reporters after Monday’s hearing that he hopes Dunton’s guilty plea, along with her previous lack of a criminal record, will persuade the court to impose a sentence at the low end of that range. He said other municipal embezzlement convictions in Maine have resulted in sentences of anywhere from nine months to three years. However, Dunton’s sentencing hearing will involve testimony from witnesses, including numerous Newburgh residents who are furious with her for what she did.
“The townspeople feel cheated,” said Thistle. “Forgiveness in this case is probably too much to expect.”
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said to reporters after the hearing that he also has researched the issue but has not yet settled on what sentence he will recommend when the time comes.
Unlike Dunton’s first court appearance, which dozens of Newburgh residents attended, there were only two at Monday’s hearing. One of them was Cindy Prescott, who is one of five people vying for two open positions on the Board of Selectmen. She said she was angered by Thistle’s suggestion that Dunton’s sentence be at the low end of what the town allows.
“She’s sorry because she got caught,” Prescott said of Dunton. “She misused our trust. I think she pleaded guilty because she wants to look better for sentencing.”