Rockland business owner blasts early release of woman who embezzled at least $67,000

Posted Sept. 04, 2014, at 4:21 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A Rockland businesswoman said the early release from jail of her former bookkeeper who embezzled at least $67,000 is the latest in a series of slaps in the face by the judicial system.

“The legal system does nothing for the victims and everything for the offenders,” said Lynn Archer, who owns both the Brass Compass Cafe and Archer’s on the Pier restaurant.

Archer said she is hurt by a legal system that allowed for the early release of Melanie Allen , 40, of Union.

Allen was sentenced on June 23 in Knox County Superior Court by Justice Jeffrey Hjelm to five years in jail, but the judge suspended all but nine months of that sentence for theft and forgery. Allen also was placed on probation for three years and ordered to pay $66,976 in restitution.

But on Aug. 29, a little more than two months after being sentenced, Allen was released under a home monitoring program, according to Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison.

Archer said the nine-month sentence was a gift for Allen, and she received another large one by serving less than a third of that time in jail.

Archer also maintained that while Allen was ordered to repay her nearly $67,000 in restitution, the actual amount taken was far greater and included money that was supposed to have been paid in taxes for the businesses. The owner of the two restaurants said she had to pay out $200,000 in taxes, interest and penalties to the Internal Revenue Service, the state, and expenses for accountants to go over her financial records.

“I’m not sure how I am still standing here. I have to thank my good customers and friends,” Archer said.

She said she also had to work far more hours than she wanted to in order to keep the businesses going and took out a loan last winter to keep the businesses going. Nearly 50 people are employed at her two restaurants.

Dennison said she does not like home monitoring being referred to as early release because the person still is under strict conditions, technically remains under the custody of the jail, and must only go to work and then home.

“This is not a free ride by any means,” the sheriff said.

The sheriff said that for someone to be eligible for home monitoring, he or she must have committed a nonviolent offense and have served at least one-third of their sentence. State law allows county jail inmates to reduce their sentence if they behave while incarcerated or if they already have served time awaiting sentencing, she said which would explain why Allen was released less than 90 days after her sentencing. Allen will be under community confinement until her nine-month sentence — minus deductions for good time — is completed.

The sheriff said Allen could have remained at the Knox County Jail in Rockland and worked in the jail and could have reduced her sentence under the early release program by one day for every 16 hours worked. Inmates are not paid for their work. But, Dennison maintained that outside employment will better serve the victim in this case.

Dennison said Allen is working with a Rockland organization that serves mentally disabled people. The sheriff said that it is better to have Allen working to help pay restitution back to Archer than to have her in jail.

But Richard Robbins of Maine Pretrial Services Inc. in Rockland said that the community confinement contract with Allen does not require any restitution be paid during the next several months.

Allen’s probation, however, which begins once she completes the jail sentence, requires restitution.

Maine Pretrial Services screens people who make a request for community confinement. Once the review is done, it is sent to the county jail administrator, who then sends it to the sheriff, who has the final say.

Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said that his office is notified when a home monitoring request is being considered. In this case, he said Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody listed reasons to Maine Pretrial Services for why Allen should not be given the benefit of early release but that he officially took no position.

Rushlau said in the future he will direct prosecutors to oppose a release if they have objections.

The sheriff said Allen is one of three people in Knox County under home monitoring. They must report to Maine Pretrial Services on a pre-arranged schedule and must not go anywhere else without approval, Dennison said.

The sheriff said there was another woman under home monitoring who was spotted last month at the Union Fair. That woman was immediately sent back to jail.

Archer said she did not learn of Allen’s release until this week, after the fact. Robbins said that he is not aware of a requirement for notification of victims approved for community confinement and it would done by the jail.

Archer said she does not expect to see a penny of restitution.

“This has been a hard lesson for me,” she said.

Allen could not be reached for comment Thursday, but her attorney, Sean Ociepka of Belfast, said that his client wants to pay restitution and get on with her life.

 

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