AUBURN — A former Mechanic Falls woman charged with welfare fraud was expected to be released from jail Friday after nearly three months awaiting trial.
Jena Bergmann, 32, pleaded guilty in Androscoggin County Superior Court to two felonies: theft by deception and aggravated forgery. She faced up to 15 years in prison on the two counts.
A judge accepted an agreement worked out between prosecutors and Bergmann’s attorney.
On the theft charge, she was sentenced to 15 months in prison, with all but 87 days suspended. She had already spent 87 days in jail. She also must serve three years on probation.
On the other charge, she was sentenced concurrently to six months in jail, all of them suspended. She also was given two years probation, to be served at the same time as the three years from the theft charge.
Jena Bergmann and her husband bilked the state and federal government out of roughly $9,000 in food stamps and Temporary Aid for Needy Families. Mathew Bergmann had paid a portion of that in child support, reducing the total amount the couple must repay to $8,851. The restitution must be paid jointly or individually, a judge said.
Mathew Bergmann pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge of theft by deception. He spent roughly 83 days in jail before being released. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison, with all but time he had served suspended.
Both of the Bergmanns had been indicted on 16 counts. The remaining charges were dismissed.
If either of them violates conditions of probation, he or she could be sent back behind bars to serve more time.
Had Jena Bergmann’s case gone to trial, Assistant Attorney General Carlos Diaz said Friday he would have called witnesses to testify for the state against her. Included in the state’s witness list were Maine Department of Health and Human Services workers, along with her friends, family and landlords.
She underreported her husband’s income to state workers when she applied for state subsidies, doctoring his pay stubs from the twon of Lisbon, where he worked, Diaz said. She also falsely represented to state workers that her husband wasn’t living with her when he was. She supplied a variety of forged affidavits to workers stating Mathew Bergmann wasn’t living with her, Diaz said.
“This is a very tragic situation,” said Donald Hornblower, Jena Bergmann’s attorney. “She’s sorry for what she’s done.”
The couple had no prior criminal record and had been led astray by an anti-government group that advocated noncompliance with governmental entities, Hornblower said. She later came to realize it had been a “huge mistake” to follow that group, Hornblower said. She had left the state and traveled to Florida before being arrested and extradited back to Maine five months later.
Hornblower said his client was “absolutely devastated and distraught” after the death of her son, who was stillborn.
On Friday, she was waiting to be reunited with her two children, who had been staying with relatives while their parents were in jail.
Justice Robert Clifford told her one of the “great ways to make things right” was to pay restitution to the state.
“I wish you good luck, Mrs. Bergmann,” he said.