PARIS – The former Norway employee charged with stealing money from the town unexpectedly pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in Oxford County Superior Court to taking more than $117,000 since 1992.

Judge Robert Crowley sentenced Deborah P. Wyman, 51, to 10 years in prison, but suspended all but two years. She must also return the money she stole, some of which will be repaid in $200 monthly payments during her three-year probation.

Crowley also ordered the former part-time community development director to sell real estate, her car and a boat to repay the town for its losses and about $30,000 in auditing fees accrued during the town’s investigation of the case.

According to witnesses in the courtroom, Wyman dropped to her knees after her sentencing, and her face looked grief-stricken.

Her attorney, Edward L. Dilworth III, of Norway, said Wyman was regretful and offered apologies to the town and Town Manager David Holt.

“It was always her intent to accept responsibility from Day One,” Dilworth said in an interview after the plea hearing.

Wyman will serve her sentence at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. She had recently been living in Waterford with her ailing 85-year-old father and twin sister, Denise Pettingill, Dilworth said.

As she walked out of the courtroom in handcuffs to the jail across the parking lot, Wyman, wearing brown slacks and a white sweater, told a reporter who asked for comment, “Will you leave me alone now?”

She was the only inmate not dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit.

Norway Police Chief Rob Federico said the district attorney told the judge that the money Wyman took was not for any exigent purposes, but was rather used to support a luxurious lifestyle.

Two forensic auditors hired by the town followed money trails from federal grants earmarked for community development to Wyman’s bank account and the stores where she made purchases.

For instance, according to the auditing firm G5 Consulting Services, in January 2005 Wyman deposited in her KeyBank account a $5,000 check that she recorded in town records as given to Pike L.F. & Son, a clothing store on Main Street. She corroborated the check with a bogus bill for services rendered with a grant, Federico explained.

Wyman then spent $3,532 that month, which included clothing purchases from J.C. Penny and Filenes for more than $1,300, as well as a $568 plane ticket to Atlanta.

“She spent it almost as soon as she got it,” Federico said Tuesday, adding, “She frequently took mini-trips over a weekend.”

But it was in bits and pieces that Wyman took the money. “She didn’t show up with a brand new Hummer that really jumped out at you,” Federico said.

Back in January, the town first noticed financial discrepancies after a local merchant came forward saying he had not received money from a community development block grant that the tax form indicated. This was the first year the town had issued 1099s for grants dispersed to local businesses to improve building facades.

A month prior, Wyman had asked for a leave of absence to take a vacation. She worked as part-time community development director and town office receptionist, and during slow months, it was not uncommon for her to take time off, according to Holt.

Holt and Federico said Wyman did not know about the town’s new taxation policy before her December departure.

Soon after officials began investigating town records, a warrant was issued March 17 for Wyman’s arrest on one count of felony theft. At the time, she was cruising in the Caribbean with her boyfriend. She returned in early April and posted a $2,500 bail, which Crowley on Tuesday ordered be turned over to the town as part of Wyman’s restitution.

According to the audit findings, released to the public Tuesday, Wyman made 176 illegal transactions during the past 14 years, totaling $117,592. The auditors could not find documents prior to this date.

The auditors reported during their almost-four-month investigation that they discovered altered checks, forged signatures on checks, unauthorized use of Holt’s signature stamp, unauthorized initialing of a substitute signature on checks, fabricated endorsements of canceled checks, fraudulent reporting of revenues and expenditures to the state and municipal authorities, and evidence of checks deposited in Wyman’s personal bank account made out to third parties.

The audit subpoenaed bank records for the past seven years, obtaining the bulk of information from KeyBank on Main Street, which is where Wyman maintained her personal checking account.

As Norway’s part-time community development director for the past 20 years, Wyman oversaw about $5 million in federal grants from the CDBG program. Holt said most of the money Wyman took, which was funneled through the town for local vendors, came from this grant program.

But according to the audit, Wyman also stole $11,324 from monthly repayments made by Northeast Tool and Die of Norway on a town loan of $57,286 during the past seven years.

One of her methods to avoid detection was to use correction fluid or correction tape on returned checks to the town, manually writing in a different payee, often a legitimate vendor, to disguise her name or her bank’s name.

“We’ve learned some things,” Holt said Tuesday. “Usually in bad circumstances there are silver linings. It became obvious to me the ways we were doing community development needed improvement, it was a little bit old-fashioned. We’ll make some changes to do things better.”

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