BANGOR, Maine — Cindy Dunton, the former deputy clerk and treasurer in Newburgh, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison with all but 20 months suspended for embezzling nearly $200,000 from the town since 2006.
Dunton, who pleaded guilty in April to Class B theft by unauthorized taking, also was ordered to be placed on probation for three years after serving her sentence and to pay approximately $252,000 in restitution — which is the sum of the money she stole plus attorney and forensic auditor fees.
Following impassioned pleas from Newburgh residents for Dunton to receive the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a recommendation from District Attorney Christopher Almy for eight years, Superior Court Justice William Anderson sided decidedly with the defense in handing down the five-year sentence. Dale Thistle, Dunton’s attorney, had recommended a sentence of five years in prison with all but 18 months suspended.
Several Newburgh residents, as well as some of Dunton’s friends and family, addressed the court to start Friday’s hearing. Newburgh First Selectmen Mike Burns said Dunton’s actions have bred “misery, hatred and distrust on every corner.”
“She didn’t only steal our hard-earned money,” he said. “She stole our trust and the innocence of the town of Newburgh. Newburgh isn’t a happy place to live any longer.”
Chris Yountz, a founding member of a residents group in Newburgh called the Fixers, presented Anderson with a petition of 200 Newburgh residents demanding a stiff sentence for Dunton.
“Please do not dilute the justice that the people of Newburgh so richly deserve,” he said.
Anderson said the number of Newburgh residents who turned out for the sentencing hearing was unique in his experience, but that their testimony about the lasting effects of Dunton’s thefts was of little use.
“I am perhaps a bit surprised at the extent of the vocalization from Newburgh residents of the harm that has been done,” said Anderson. “I’m not sure I would expect that from every town where someone has taken money. I don’t think that I can blame her for all of the unhappiness between the two factions in the town.”
Dunton’s approximately 20 supporters who attended Thursday’s hearing outnumbered those who turned out against her. They included family, friends and members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Hermon, where, according to statements Dunton has made to the Bangor Daily News, she has reconnected with her spirituality.
“She has confided in me and shown severe remorse for her actions,” said Susan Strickland of Winterport, who met Dunton in March 2010 through the church. “She has become part of the fabric of our church family.”
Marjorie Neff, Dunton’s mother, said she was speaking for the entire family when she said they regret the damage that has been done to the residents of Newburgh.
“Cindy and I have shed many tears together over the last months,” she said. “I have personally observed her remorse. I am proud of her for standing up and taking responsibility for her actions. Our family is committed to assisting her in her efforts to pay back the money she has taken.” Neff said that includes helping Dunton procure training after her jail sentence so she can find a decent job.
Dunton paid about $16,000 to the town of Newburgh on Friday. Thistle said he was prepared to turn the money over to Dean Beaupain, who is representing Newburgh in the Dunton case.
Thistle argued that Dunton’s cooperation with investigators, her lack of a criminal record and her desire to pay the money back should be mitigating factors in deciding her sentence.
“Mr. Almy’s recommendation is out of line with other sentences that have been handed down in similar cases,” said Thistle, who gave several examples of prison terms ordered recently in embezzlement cases in Maine. “I haven’t found one that is as severe as what Mr. Almy is suggesting.”
Almy said after the hearing that he also thought Dunton’s sentence was fair.
“This is a tough situation for any court to decide what should happen to a person in this situation,” Almy said. “I’m satisfied with the sentence. I hope the town understands why the sentence was given the way it was.”
Dunton’s request that she have until Tuesday to begin serving her sentence was denied, and she was taken into custody immediately. Thistle said she will likely spend a few days at the Penobscot County Jail before being taken to Windham Correctional Facility.
“Twenty months is not a long time for $250,000,” Yountz said after the sentencing, adding that he hopes Dunton’s situation is a wake-up call for others.
“It was my hope that they would send a message to the rest of the people [that] you can’t do this,” he explained. “If you do, you’re going to go away for a long time.”
Dunton told the court she accepts her punishment.
“I realize how wrong I was and that what I did was a serious crime,” she said. “I accept fully my responsibility. I can promise the court that I’ll never do this again. I’m extremely ashamed and remorseful for my actions. I have asked and received forgiveness from God and my family and I hope that someday the people of Newburgh will find it in their hearts to forgive me as well.”
BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.