Tuesday February 12, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Guilford woman will serve 18 months in federal prison and must repay more than $80,000 she embezzled from the volunteer-run Algiers Fire District No. 1.

Sherry Roebuck, 52, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court by District Judge J. Garvan Murtha. She had been convicted of federal program embezzlement and mail fraud in July after a two-day trial.

Murtha rejected a request from Roebuck's attorney that she serve no jail time. And he noted that Roebuck -- who unsuccessfully blamed another district administrator for the thefts during her trial -- has not accepted any responsibility for her crimes.

"What concerns me is, I feel you did commit perjury at the trial," Murtha said. "And you still don't have any remorse."

In spite of its name, the Algiers Fire District has nothing to do with fire protection. Rather, it was formed in 1993 to administer a sewer system that served part of Guilford.

Roebuck became the district's treasurer in 2007. Her duties included mailing out bills to sewer customers, collecting payments and handling the district's banking.

But authorities said she soon began writing checks to herself. Over the course of more than three years, she pocketed nearly $83,000, investigators found.

With the fire district experiencing major financial problems, Roebuck resigned in March 2011, reportedly saying she was too busy to continue as treasurer. That's when officials made a shocking discovery.


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"When she walked out, we opened up her computer, which was really our computer, and all the balances were zero and there were no check stubs," Herb Meyer, a long-time fire district administrator, told the Reformer in 2011.

Meyer notified police, and Roebuck was indicted in October 2011 by a federal grand jury in Rutland. Authorities have said the federal charges stem from the use of the U.S. Postal Service to mail sewer bills as well as the fact that the district received more than $10,000 in federal money, some of which Roebuck took for personal use.

She has maintained her innocence. At her trial last year, she claimed Meyer had told her to write many of the checks.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Waples has said Roebuck never mentioned Meyer when she initially was questioned by police. And on Monday, Waples said Roebuck had offered falsified evidence in a "shameless attempt to frame Herb Meyer" during the trial.

"She lied under oath," Waples said. "That's the fact of the matter."

Roebuck did not speak during Monday's sentencing hearing. But her attorney, John Mabie, told the judge that there had been "extraordinary family circumstances" in his client's life.

"She was the victim of abuse for a fairly sustained period of time," Mabie said, adding that Roebuck has a disabled son in his mid-20s who relies on her.

Mabie also said Roebuck would be hard-pressed to find work -- and begin paying restitution -- after a prison sentence.

"A better result for society is to have her in the community and working," Mabie said.

But Waples argued that Roebuck was a public servant who tried to cover up her thefts.

"She egregiously breached that position of public trust," Waples said.

He added that Roebuck "for all intents and purposes was stealing from her friends and neighbors." Waples told the judge that Roebuck had made a half-dozen car payments with some of the money she stole.

Murtha said he took some time off of Roebuck's sentence in consideration of her family issues. But he did not believe those issues were pressing enough to keep her out of jail entirely.

"Frankly, I think your circumstances aren't extraordinary in many ways," he said.

Murtha also noted that Roebuck has not repaid any of the money she took.

"It's been seven months since the conviction," Murtha said. "You could have made some attempt to pay restitution, even if it's a small amount."

In addition to the prison sentence, Murtha ordered Roebuck to serve three years of probation afterward.

She also owes $82,867 in restitution to be distributed among Meyer ($335), Algiers Fire District ($2,500) and the Vermont League of Cities & Towns ($80,032).

VLCT, acting as an insurer for municipalities, paid Algiers Fire District most of the money that had been stolen. The fire district made it through the financial crisis and still exists, but its leaders last year decided to turn over financial-management duties to the town.

Roebuck must report on March 19 to begin serving her sentence at a still-undetermined prison. Murtha said he did not believe she posed a risk for fleeing the area before she is incarcerated.

There still is an opportunity for Roebuck to appeal either her conviction or sentence, Mabie said.

"That will be her decision," he said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.