Bristol woman faces third embezzlement charge in seven years

BRISTOL — A Bristol woman, who recently completed a 21-month federal prison sentence, is facing her third embezzlement case in seven years following a report of money disappearing from a local market, court records show.
Billie LaFlam, 44, of Mountain Road has been ordered by judges to make more than $100,000 in restitution in recent years.
LaFlam, previously known as Billie Preston, appeared in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Tuesday for a hearing on whether she should be sent back to prison for violating the federal supervised release terms imposed in her second fraud case.
Chief Federal Court Judge Christina Reiss agreed to a request by defense lawyer Karen Shingler that a final decision be postponed until there was a possible resolution or dismissal on the newest felony embezzlement charge filed against LaFlam in Vermont Superior Court, criminal division, in Middlebury.
Bristol Police Officer Joshua Otey reported the owner of Almost Home Market on North Street called authorities after determining about $100 was missing on Dec. 16 and detected another $32 was missing Dec. 21.
Otey said he interviewed two employees and one was cleared. LaFlam became nervous during her interview and later made some admissions including that she “borrowed a little for gas,” Otey said in a court affidavit. Otey wrote LaFlam also admitted she began taking the money from the store after losing a second job around Thanksgiving.
After the police interview, the market’s owner reported that LaFlam subsequently paid $145 in restitution, Otey wrote.
LaFlam has pleaded not guilty in Superior Court to the felony embezzlement count, which carries a possible penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
While the federal records refer to her as Billie Preston, the court was told that she has reverted back to LaFlam — her maiden name.
Shingler said she was told by Addison County Public Defender James Gratton that he believes there are some possible defenses and he has until a hearing July 10 to try to determine the strategy for the Bristol embezzlement case.
Judge Reiss was surprised by the lengthy delay in the state case. She noted the police affidavit stated LaFlam had made admissions about her guilt and Judge Sam Hoar had found probable cause for the felony count.
Reiss agreed to continue LaFlam on release conditions imposed by Magistrate Judge John Conroy in a recent hearing. Reiss also added Preston may not work in any position where she handles money. A U.S. Probation officer told Judge Reiss that LaFlam was prohibited from handling money as a term of her supervised released, but was hired at the market.
Shingler said that would not be a problem going forward. LaFlam, who is living with her sister, is working for a landscaping company and will be mowing lawns in the summer, Shingler said.
Reiss told LaFlam that with any violation of her release conditions “you should plan on being detained.”
The former Monkton woman was sentenced in 2015 to almost two years in prison for wire fraud in connection with the embezzlement of more than $86,000 from a Williston company, records show. She is under a court order to repay the money to Endyne Inc., an environmental testing lab.
Preston embezzled from Endyne in part to pay $15,056 in restitution to University Wholesalers — now known as Nokian Tyres — in Colchester for her first embezzlement case in 2010, court records show.
Preston pleaded guilty to the embezzlement charge in May 2010 and then-Judge Michael Kupersmith imposed a deferred sentence, which meant the criminal conviction would be wiped off her record if she stayed out of trouble for five years.
Records show Kupersmith declined to follow a request by University Wholesalers asking the court to block Preston from ever being put in a similar position to victimize another company.
Kupersmith did also order Preston to complete 100 hours of community service, undergo counseling, and appear before the local reparative board.
Preston was on state probation for the first embezzlement when she began stealing from Endyne shortly after she was hired in November 2011, Williston police said.
Williston Officer Joshua Moore, the lead investigator in the second case, eventually had the felony charge filed in federal court instead of state court because of the amount and it was a repeat charge.
During Preston’s sentencing two years ago, Judge Reiss was unimpressed that she had sold her home and paid off debts, including her car loan, instead of paying any restitution to her former employer in Williston.
“It should be somewhat of a priority,” Reiss said about using the proceeds from the house sale in the divorce case to help with the restitution.
Endyne President Harry B. Locker told the court the betrayal of trust had placed the company in jeopardy. He said at the time the company was still trying to recover. He noted there was a loss of confidence by some vendors.
Editor’s note: The reporter covered earlier parts of this story when he was a staff writer for the Burlington Free Press.

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