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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Former Hubbardston tax collector sentenced to jail, restitution for thefts

Former Hubbardston tax collector sentenced to jail, restitution for thefts

WORCESTER — Cynthia Washburn-Doane, the former Hubbardston tax collector charged with embezzling $535,000 in town funds, was ordered to serve a year in jail and pay restitution in an amount to be determined after pleading guilty Friday in Worcester Superior Court.

Judge Janet Kenton-Walker sentenced the 62-year-old Ms. Washburn-Doane to two years in the House of Correction, with one year to be served, after she changed her pleas to guilty on charges of embezzlement by a municipal officer, larceny of more than $250 by a common scheme and falsifying corporate books. The balance of the jail sentence was suspended for three years with probation.

As conditions of probation, Ms. Washburn-Doane was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and any related treatment deemed appropriate by the Probation Department and to pay restitution in an amount to be determined by the court within 20 days of her release from custody.

Assistant District Attorney John A. O'Leary had recommended that Ms. Washburn-Doane be sentenced to 4 to 5 years in state prison with three years of probation to follow and an order of restitution. Ms. Washburn-Doane's lawyer, John M. Dombrowski, asked the judge to impose a suspended 2-year jail sentence with probation and restitution.

Mr. O'Leary said if the case had gone to trial, he would have introduced evidence showing that Ms. Washburn-Doane stole $535,000 in tax proceeds over a 10-year span beginning in 2004 and ending when she resigned at the end of May 2014. Her resignation came after financial irregularities were uncovered by the town and an audit was conducted.

The report found that Ms. Washburn-Doane, who had been the town's tax collector for 25 years, would take property owners' cash payments for herself, and the accounts for which the money was intended would not reflect any payment made.

In the next quarter's tax bills, Ms. Washburn-Doane would adjust the accounts for the payments she stole to prevent those accounts from becoming delinquent. She would apply cash payments from other taxpayers to the delinquent accounts, so they would appear paid and up-to-date, according to the review.

In some instances, she applied phony payments in "dummy batches" that she later deleted from the town's accounting software, leaving no record of the transactions. Ms. Washburn-Doane told town officials that she kept a separate, accurate list of taxpayers in 2013 who were behind in paying their tax bills, so only those who were actually delinquent saw their properties move into tax title, the report said.

Misappropriated cash and checks were applied to bring accounts current at the end of each year, according to the review.

Under an agreement Ms. Washburn-Doane made with the town on May 28, 2014, she consented to cooperating with an investigation of irregularities in Hubbardston's financial records. As part of the agreement, Ms. Washburn-Doane said she would disclose what she knew about missing tax payments and provide documentation in her possession. She also agreed to pay the town $120,600 in restitution to help cover legal fees.

When questioned by state police investigators, Ms. Washburn-Doane, who was making about $30,000 a year as tax collector, admitted stealing the money, explaining that her husband was disabled and she had a daughter in college and that she used the stolen funds to pay her family's bills, according to Mr. O'Leary.

"As a result of Ms. Doane's theft of funds, the town has often not had the resources it needed to fund all of its programs and services. While Ms. Doane's daughter was studying music, the town was cutting band programs in its schools and cutting other services or delaying equipment purchases as we struggled to balance the budget," Dan Galante, chairman of the town's Board of Selectmen, said in an impact statement read in court.

"Besides loss of funds, the town has also suffered in non-monetary ways. Her deception has left deep and possibly permanent scars on all town officials. Selectmen and the town administrator have been criticized for what we did or did not do and condemned for not doing enough, as if we somehow allowed this to happen under our watch or enabled Ms. Doane," Mr. Galante told the court.

In addition to the $120,000 paid by Ms. Washburn-Doane, the town has recovered $210,000 in insurance proceeds, according to Mr. O'Leary, who said he would have recommended a more severe sentence but for the money she paid back and her cooperation in the investigation.

"She clearly was stealing from people she knew," the prosecutor said.

Mr. Dombrowski said his client, who had no prior criminal record, began stealing money in 2004, at a time when she was suffering from depression over her 18-year-old daughter's death in a skiing accident and her now 73-year-old husband's health was declining.

"The money was used to pay her bills," said Mr. Dombrowski, who agreed that his client's conduct had had a negative impact on the entire community.

"She admits she did it. She's terribly sorry," the defense lawyer said.

Before imposing sentence, Judge Kenton-Walker said a long prison term for Ms. Washburn-Doane would reduce the town's chances of ever recovering any additional funds in restitution from her.

"I cannot make this right, no matter what I do, but I have to do what I believe is fair," the judge said before handing down her sentence.



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