AUBURN — A former John F. Murphy group home manager has been sentenced to serve six months in jail for stealing from the nonprofit and from at least one of the disabled clients served by the agency.
That sentence was stayed until June 3 so the former manager can attend her daughter’s high school graduation on June 2.
Terri Arsenault, 41, of Mechanic Falls pleaded guilty last month to two felony theft charges, and has since paid back $15,000 in stolen funds. She appeared in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Wednesday and, after acknowledging the pain that she has caused to JFM, her family and her community, asked that all jail time be suspended so she could “return to my family.”
As part of a plea deal, Arsenault had agreed to a four-year sentence with most of that sentence suspended, and went into Wednesday’s hearing knowing that any jail time served would be capped at nine months. Her attorney, Walter McKee, argued that Arsenault’s lack of criminal history and her long-standing community service justified a lesser sentence.
He also said that the Sun Journal reports on Arsenault’s arrest and subsequent conviction had caused Arsenault and her family a great deal of shame, and may be the “worst punishment” imposed because of her standing in the community.
Arsenault is a former RSU 10 director and served as chairwoman of the district’s Budget Committee.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Miller asked Justice MaryGay Kennedy to impose the capped nine-month sentence, arguing that Arsenault had “used” the client accounts at JFM.
“She stole from them for her own personal benefit,” Miller said, to eat out and to buy gas, groceries, furniture and other items for her family. Arsenault used some of the money to take her daughters on a sightseeing trip to Boston.
According to Miller, Arsenault used her position of authority at JFM to access one client’s trust account, to misuse a commercial credit card and to submit false receipts for work done by her husband’s company over a period of 19 months.
“This was not just taking from the till,” Miller said. “This required intention” to create false expenditure claims for these items and cover the theft.
JFM Chief Operating Officer Laurie Crane-Turton testified in support of the nine-month sentence, saying Arsenault “used our trust in her” to steal from vulnerable people.
Arsenault’s behavior was “egregious and calculated,” Crane-Turton said, and “each and every time she submitted for reimbursement was an opportunity for her to stop,” and she didn’t.
Crane-Turton, who attended the hearing with at least 10 JFM supporters, said Arsenault’s actions caused the nonprofit group, which serves people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, to make changes to its financial operations. Those changes recently enabled managers to stop another months-long theft, she said.
She asked Kennedy to send a message to Arsenault and others that “crimes against vulnerable people will not be tolerated.”
Since Arsenault was fired from her job at JFM, she opened a home-based day-care business. Two of her clients testified on her behalf, describing her as loving, generous and a role model for the youngsters.
Arsenault’s niece, Wendy Hoyle, also testified on Arsenault’s behalf, saying, “Terry is the most amazing woman in my life … I love her with all my heart.”
During Hoyle’s testimony, Arsenault wiped away a stream of tears. Then it was her opportunity to be heard by the court.
“I’m ashamed of my actions,” she said, “and am striving to correct them.”
It was difficult to understand her as she cried, but Arsenault said, “I am sincerely and terribly sorry for this” and asked for a suspended sentence so she could “be allowed to stay with my children and let me be the mother they need me to be.”
A number of Arsenault’s supporters who attended the hearing cried during her testimony, including one daughter and several of that daughter’s friends.
Before imposing the sentence, Kennedy acknowledged multiple letters submitted in support of Arsenault that described her as caring, dependable and trustworthy, and then told Arsenault: “Let me be clear. No one in this room is saying you're a bad person, but it should also be clear you did something wrong.”
Kennedy said a significant sentence was warranted in Arsenault’s case because she “took money from one of the (JFM) residents as her own” and “violated her employer’s trust and violated the trust of the people” served by JFM.
Arsenault was sentenced to serve four years, with all but six months suspended, on one felony charge and two years, with all but three months suspended, on the second felony theft. After she is released from the Androscoggin County Jail, Arsenault will serve two years of probation.
She had faced up to 10 years in prison on the first theft charge and up to five years on the second charge.
Her husband, Michael Arsenault, who was in the courtroom Wednesday, pleaded guilty last month to a single charge of felony theft from JFM.
He owns J&M Property Management and, according to prosecutors, his company presented invoices to the nonprofit and was paid more than $3,000 for work that was never done. If he is involved in no further criminal activity in the next year, that charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor and he will pay a $300 fine.
He has already reimbursed JFM for the missing funds.