Bethel embezzler gets five months

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PARIS – A man accused of embezzling $62,000 from the Bethel Rotary Club was sentenced to five months in the county jail Wednesday after he pleaded guilty to theft.

William Alford, 48, of 9 Forest Drive in Bethel is a former treasurer of the club. There was no plea agreement involved. During the sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Joseph O’Connor did not make a recommendation; rather he left it up to the judge.

Alford will not be on probation when he is released.

Alford took the treasurer’s position in 2002. That year he started writing checks to himself from the club’s funds, O’Conner said as he presented the evidence.

Most of the club’s finances go to charity.

Periodically, past club President Stephen Wight asked Alford for statements and records of the finances. He said he could not provide them citing changeovers in computer systems or bank accounts.

In February, the club got a call that its account at Northeast Bank was overdrawn, O’Connor said. When confronted, Alford initially said he moved the funds to KeyBank, but later admitted he had taken the money.

Current President Cynthia Moran-Laux said that club officials gave Alford a couple of chances to pay back the money. He gave them a check at an April board meeting, but it bounced. They reported the situation to the police April 11, and Alford was arrested April 26.

“Alford let down the Rotarians as well as the community,” Moran-Laux said during her testimony. “We are still working on rebuilding that relationship… we do not see this as a misappropriation of funds – it was a theft.”

Since then, Alford paid the club $66,000 to cover the money he took, legal fees and lost interest, O’Connor said. Records show he stole $62,238.65 over the years.

O’Connor said Alford had a good job at the time, and suggested that he used the funds to live an opulent lifestyle.

However Alford’s attorney, Alan Perry, denied that, stating that Alford faced a “swarm of stresses” which led to the thefts. His job security was evaporating, his wife was ill and his expenses exceeded his income.

“Alford, in 2002, made a series of extremely bad financial decisions,” Perry said. “He did not make any new purchases.”

The money went primarily to paying off interest on credit cards, Perry said.

To get the $66,000 to pay the club back, he refinanced his home, emptied his and his wife’s retirement accounts and their 9-year-old son’s college tuition fund, and borrowed money from his wife’s family.

“He did immediately confess and repay the rotary,” Perry said.

During this time, he attempted suicide, and later sought counseling, according to O’Connor.

Shortly after his arrest, Alford lost his job at American Skiing Co. He later started working for Martindale Associates, based in Bradford, Mass. He was laid off from that job before Christmas, all according to court records.

Calls to Perry for comment Wednesday were not immediately returned.

O’Connor did not recommend a sentence to the judge, noting that Alford pleaded guilty on his own, and therefore threw himself on the mercy of the court.

For the court, “A plea like this is a significant benefit,” Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley said, citing the expense it takes to try cases.

He also noted, however, “One way or another Mr. Alford was living at a level he couldn’t afford.”

O’Connor said that probation would not be necessary.

“I would be surprised if he were to be in a position to do something like this even if he were so inclined,” he said.

Alford had no criminal record.

“It appears that this would have continued had it not been brought to light,” O’Connor said.

Moran-Laux said the club has taken more precautions in its finances since the incident.

“We have reviewed our checks and balances,” she said.

Moran-Laux said the club did not want to be too involved in the court process after Alford was arrested.

“Let the judicial system take its course; it’s not for us,” she said after Alford’s plea.

Dressed in a suit and tie, Alford addressed the court.

“It’s going to take a long time to regain any normalcy in my life,” he said.

He was taken into custody after the hearing, handcuffed and walked to the jail with the other inmates dressed in orange.

Yaroslav Stanchak, who just hired Alford to consult at his company Mountainview Technologies in Vermont, spoke on Alford’s behalf during the hearing. In Alford’s court file, there are 15 letters of support from acquaintances.

“I’ve known Mr. Alford for 20 years professionally and personally,” Stanchak said. “He always was straightforward and ethical… I have no (doubt) in recommending Mr. Alford as an employee to anyone.”

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