A 55-year-old New Bedford woman who, while serving as director of the Fairhaven Public Schools Department’s office of affairs, stole at least $ 100,000, was convicted this week in district court of New Bedford for theft over $ 250 by a single scheme, Bristol County Attorney Thomas announced Mr Quinn III.
Christine E. Mitchell pleaded guilty on Tuesday and was sentenced by Judge Patrick J. Malone to two years at Bristol County Reformatory. However, due to the accused’s serious medical condition, the judge suspended the sentence for five years, which means that she will be on supervised probation for five years. If the defendant commits a new crime in the next five years, she could be forced to serve the full two-year prison sentence. Judge Malone also ordered the defendant to pay the Fairhaven School Department $ 1,000 in restitution, which is the amount the school department had to pay its insurance company as a deductible.
The defendant was an employee of Fairhaven Public Schools for over 15 years and, in her most recent role, served as Director of the Commercial Office. In October 2018, when the Respondent took unexpected medical leave, it was discovered that there were various discrepancies in school finances which were under the direct control of the Respondent. School officials were able to confront the accused with their findings when she returned to the office. During this meeting, the defendant could not provide an explanation, but before being fired, he handed in a resignation letter which ended with “I am very sorry”.
Fairhaven Public Schools retained the services of an accounting firm to perform a forensic audit. This audit report revealed a theft pattern totaling over $ 100,000. More specifically, the defendant stole $ 89,893 from the student activities fund and the preschool fund for 2015-2018 and also made unauthorized checks itself totaling $ 10,892 in 2011-2012 for a grand total of 100,785 $. Regarding the theft of funds from student activities and the preschool fund, this defendant would take possession of the checks and cash, but would deposit only the checks – never the cash. She would manipulate internal files to cover up the theft. Due to the cost of the audit and the policy coverage, the school was unable to delve into the defendant’s time at the ministry. The insurance policy covered the loss of the school department, but the school had to pay a $ 1,000 deductible.
The accused suffered from a serious illness during the course of this case. A subset of his medical records have been submitted to the judge for probation review in relation to the prison sentence. The defense argued that a prison sentence was in fact a death sentence based on his current state of health.
Assistant District Attorney Madalyn Fairbanks argued that years of deception and theft warrant jail time, but a shorter period was recommended in light of the accused’s health concerns. Taking into account the health concerns, the Commonwealth pleaded for a two-year prison sentence with six months to serve and the balance suspended for two years. The Commonwealth also pleaded for the restitution of $ 1,000. The accused’s criminal behavior affected a public school, children who worked to raise funds and members of the Fairhaven community.
“I am glad that the defendant was held responsible for stealing a substantial amount of money from school department funds. This was a clear breach of trust in the town, the school committee, the children and the citizens of Fairhaven, ”said District Attorney Quinn.