BRATTLEBORO -- A former bookkeeper at a Brattleboro dental office pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to embezzling more than $60,000 from the business over the course of several years.
Penny J. Lussier, 46, with addresses listed in both Guilford and Keene, N.H., is charged with one count of felony embezzlement in connection with her former employment at Brattleboro Dental Health on Western Avenue.
Lussier was issued a short list of court-ordered conditions and released pending further proceedings in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division. Though she entered the not-guilty plea at arraignment Tuesday morning, a police affidavit says that, when Lussier was confronted with the theft allegations in June, she declared, "I did it. Is that what you want to hear?"
Brattleboro police officer Jonathan Whiteman wrote in court documents that the investigation began May 23 when Dr. Thomas Heydinger contacted authorities to report suspected embezzlement by one of his office's former employees.
The dentist told police that, about three weeks prior, "he learned that money paid in cash by a patient that was to be deposited by Lussier did not appear on the deposit slip from the bank."
A subsequent audit of the office's books from January 2009 onward showed about $60,000 missing, the police affidavit says. On May 12, Lussier had been fired from her job.
Heydinger and Dr. David Neumeister told police that, in Lussier's position as a bookkeeper, she had been responsible for all of the dental office's accounts payable, court documents say.
"At no time," the affidavit says, "was Lussier authorized to take funds for personal use."
But the audit showed that she had, in fact, helped herself to the office's proceeds, according to Whiteman's affidavit.
"During the period of 2009 to 2014, Lussier embezzled approximately $22,516 from cash taken into the dental practice," the affidavit says. "During the same time period, Lussier embezzled $37,680 by writing herself checks payable to her from the practice."
An employee at the dental office told police that Lussier "had been acting different lately" to the point that she had been concerned about Lussier's job performance. Lussier also had told her that "the doctors had given her a loan," which the employee "thought was odd," court documents say.
Another employee said that, while checking the office's books, she had discovered a $1,300 discrepancy and reported it to the doctors.
On June 12, Whiteman contacted Lussier and asked to speak with her regarding an incident at her former employer's office.
"Lussier then stated, ‘I did it. Is that what you want to hear?'" Whiteman wrote. "I told Lussier that I wanted to speak with her still to get more details."
In an interview at Brattleboro's police station, Lussier again admitted the embezzlement, Whiteman wrote. She blamed financial problems, saying she had been "unable to make ends meet," the affidavit says.
Lussier said she had obtained a $2,500 loan from one of the dentists, though that claim later was refuted by the doctor, Whiteman wrote.
"Lussier stated that she had every intention of paying the loan back," the affidavit says. "However, when it came time at the end of the month, she ran into the same problem -- she couldn't make ends meet. Lussier stated that's when she started embezzling money."
She told police the embezzlement had begun about two years ago. "Lussier stated that she would normally write herself a check and cash it," Whiteman wrote. "However, sometimes she would divert cash that patients paid."
Whiteman added that, "if she needed money right away, she would take a check and cash it at People's United Bank. People's Bank is the bank used by the (dental) practice. If she didn't need money right away, she would deposit the check in her Citizens Bank account."
Lussier allegedly underestimated the amount of money she had embezzled, however.
"Lussier stated she did not know the exact amount, but it was around $15,000," Whiteman wrote.
She told police that the smallest check she had written to herself was $500, while the largest had been for $1,500. A common amount was $1,000, court documents say.
Following her termination from the bookkeeping job, the dental office received a letter and a $500 check from Lussier, Whiteman's affidavit says. She promised monthly installments of $500 and also asked the doctors "to let her know the total amount she owed them."
The check and letter were placed into evidence.
In her application for a public defender, Lussier wrote that she is unemployed and has annual income of $2,250. She was approved for public-defender services at a cost of $50.
Following Tuesday's arraignment, Lussier was given standard conditions of release including returning to court when ordered; notifying authorities of any changes in address; and staying out of further legal trouble. She also was ordered to report to Brattleboro Police Department to be photographed and fingerprinted.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275. Follow him on Twitter @MikeReformer.