NEWPORT, Maine — At the end of a four-hour jury-waived trial, a former employee of the Maine court system was found guilty Monday of attempting to steal state funds and trying to cover it up.
Danielle A. Beckwith, 48, of Hampden, who worked as the supervisor of the Office of Transcript Production, located at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor, was charged last July with one count of attempted theft by deception and two counts of tampering with public records. The conduct that led to the charges occurred on Oct. 10 and 17, 2012, according to the complaint dated July 18, 2013.
Because of possible conflicts of interest, retired District Court Judge John V. Romei, who presided for 21 years in Washington County, handled the case in Newport District Court.
A sentencing date has not been set. Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said after the trial that she would ask for jail time.
Beckwith, who is free on personal recognizance bail, faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
Beckwith, who took the stand in her own defense, denied she was trying to steal from the court system.
Her attorney, Marvin Glazier of Bangor, declined to comment on the judge’s decision.
“I am pleased with the verdict,” Robbin said. “I’m surprised she stuck with the same story she told Detective Peter Lizanecz. If you can’t trust records from the court system, whose records can you trust?”
In a tape played for Romei, Beckwith told Lizanecz, an investigator with the Maine attorney general’s office, that she received a phone call from a man who identified himself as Alec Winchester demanding a large refund for overpayment for the production of a transcript. She told the detective that she did not investigate who he was until after the refund check was issued.
Beckwith’s oldest child goes by the name Alex Winchester, the defendant and others testified. The refund check for $2,750, which never was cashed, was made out to Alex Winchester.
Beckwith testified that she put through the paperwork for the refund assuming she would find the supporting documents eventually.
She said the demand for payment came at a chaotic time for the office when courtroom recording equipment statewide was transitioning from cassette tapes to digital recording and the typing of transcripts was being outsourced to a private firm in Arizona.
Under cross-examination, Beckwith admitted that she was more than $34,000 in debt after her divorce a couple of years earlier. She said that it was “manageable” and she was working to pay it off.
Transcript overpayments are common, retired transcriptionist Brenda Cheney of Brewer, who worked with Beckwith, testified. When the production of a transcript from a tape recording of a hearing or jury-waived trial was ordered, employees estimated how many pages long it would be using a formula based on how much tape was used. Employees then sent an invoice to the person requesting the transcript, billing at $3 per page.
Once a check was received, the transcript was produced and sent out, Cheney said. If a refund was due because the transcriptionist had overestimated the cost, a check was requested from the Administrative Office of the Court in Portland. That check was sent to the transcription office, where employees mailed it to the person or firm that had requested and paid for the transcript, documenting that the refund had been sent, she said.
Beckwith testified that it was her intent to return the check to the Portland office because she could not verify that an order had ever been placed for a transcript.
Her deception was uncovered by her office mates, who noticed when the check came in that it was made out Alex Winchester, Beckwith’s daughter. Mary Jane Bureau of Glenburn, who worked for Beckwith when the attempted theft happened, testified that she decided to investigate on her own to see if she could find the paperwork related to the refund request, which was signed by Beckwith, and the original transcript order.
The day after the check arrived, Oct. 18, 2012, she reported her suspicions to Rick Record, director of court operations. The next day, he came to the courthouse with Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross and escorted Beckwith out of the building. Her employment officially ended Nov. 21, 2012, Mary Ann Lynch, spokesperson for the court system, said last year.
Beckwith was hired on July 9, 1990, as a court reporter, Lynch said last year in an email. She left that position on Dec. 12, 1995, but was rehired as a transcriber on July 11, 2005. She was promoted to supervisor on July 28, 2008.
On Oct. 10, 2004, Beckwith was charged with theft by unauthorized taking, a Class E crime, according to court documents. She pleaded no contest Jan. 27, 2005, and paid a $200 fine.
Lynch declined to comment on whether the people who rehired Beckwith in 2005 were aware of the conviction. She also refused to comment on whether the conviction was considered when Beckwith was promoted.