PARIS — A former bookkeeper for a volunteer-run school food service pleaded guilty Friday to embezzling money from the nonprofit organization.
Jane S. Dutton, 57, of 22 Leach Road in Fryeburg, will not serve any jail time but must pay back $20,000 to the Maine School Food Services Association.
Dutton entered the guilty plea to a charge of theft Friday in Oxford County Superior Court. She was charged with embezzling the money between August 2005 and July 2007 while serving as the association's treasurer and bookkeeper.
Justice Robert Clifford agreed to a plea agreement, deferring Dutton's sentence for four years. During that time, Dutton must repay the stolen money. If she is successful, she can withdraw her plea to the felony count and plead to a misdemeanor count of theft and pay a $500 fine.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne said the treasurer and bookkeeper who succeeded Dutton found several unauthorized charges on the association's credit card, which was to be used only for charges related to the association. Beauchesne said that when Dutton was questioned by Maine State Police, she did not admit to the theft but agreed that the charges appeared to be unauthorized and made by her.
“We would certainly consider them to be incriminating statements,” Beauchesne said of Dutton's answers.
Beauchesne said Dutton had agreed to pay $5,000 on the day of her plea.
The Maine School Food Services Association is an affiliate of the national School Nutrition Association. It is a volunteer organization that supports kitchen training and nutrition education in schools throughout the state.
Doris Demers, a past president of the association who took over treasurer duties following Dutton's tenure, said she considered the act a “betrayal” to the volunteers who gave their time to the organization.
“It is ultimately the children who we feed in our schools every day who lose,” Demers said.
Barbara Rose, who also served as president of the association, said the theft nearly cost the organization its nonprofit status and negatively affected the image of the group.
“We feel vindicated, because all this time she said it was an honest mistake,” Rose said.