NEWBURGH, Maine — Cindy Dunton’s hour of accountability is nearly upon her.
After more than a year of waiting and legal maneuvering in an embezzlement case that has caused divisiveness in Newburgh that continues to this day, Dunton is scheduled to be sentenced Friday for stealing nearly $200,000 from taxpayers since 2006. A contingent of Newburgh residents and officials are expected to attend Friday’s hearing to urge the court to impose the stiffest possible sentence. Signs have been erected all over town in the past few days reminding townspeople of the court date.
In April, Dunton said she wanted to “heal the wounds” she has caused in Newburgh when she pleaded guilty to Class B theft by unauthorized taking, which is the most serious form of larceny in Maine. By pleading guilty, Dunton waived her right to a jury trial, setting up the next step in the case, Friday’s sentencing. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy said Thursday he will recommend a split sentence for Dunton — meaning jail time followed by probation, but that he hadn’t yet settled on the numbers. He said restitution to the town of Newburgh for the $199,536 Dunton has admitted to stealing plus more than $50,000 in attorney and auditors’ fees will be a part of his recommendation.
In June 2010, Dunton and her husband, Alan, signed a promissory note with the town admitting to Cindy Dunton’s embezzlement and pledging to repay the town through various means, including selling their real estate. No payments have been made so far, but Dunton and her attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, told the Bangor Daily News in April that Dunton was collecting money from family and friends in order to make a payment to the town on the day of her sentencing. Neither Dunton nor Thistle could be reached for comment on Thursday. Alan Dunton is not charged with any crimes and according to his wife was unaware of the thefts because she has always handled the family’s finances.
According to a forensic financial audit conducted last year, Dunton used a variety of means to steal the money, including writing checks to herself and her husband for up to $21,500. Dunton also paid health insurance premiums and her property taxes with stolen money, according to the audit. Some town residents say they have uncovered additional thefts by Dunton, but selectmen opted to limit the investigation to the time period between January 2006 and December 2010 in order to limit attorney and auditor fees.
Since the thefts were uncovered just before Newburgh’s annual town meeting in March 2010, the town has been consumed in controversy. Pressure from townspeople over Dunton’s misdeeds, along with numerous other issues, led to the resignations in March 2011 of two members of the Board of Selectmen. Then last month, nearly all of the town’s employees resigned en masse, citing ongoing pressure from townspeople, including a group calling itself the Fixers, who have been studying the town’s finances, challenging officials during public meetings and maintaining websites critical of the town.
Almy said Thursday that residents’ opinions about the Dunton case will be valued during Friday’s hearing, but he urged them to be efficient.
“If people take a commonsense approach, they’ll realize that a clear, concise message through several people would be as effective or more effective than having lots and lots of people repeating themselves,” said Almy. “I’m hoping that the people of Newburgh do come and say their piece.”
In the likely event that Dunton is sentenced to a prison term, Almy said he was unsure if she would begin that sentence Friday or at a later date.
“She may ask for a stay until after July 4,” said Almy. “I’m not positive about that.”