Former co-chief of ambulance service pleads in embezzlement
MIDDLEBURY — A former co-director of Middlebury Regional EMS has pleaded innocent to four felony charges of embezzlement, stemming from allegations that she stole a combined total of $7,802 from the nonprofit over a more than year-long period to pay for personal items, gifts for friends and her own medical expenses.
Lisa M. Northup, 46, entered her plea during her Jan. 22 arraignment in Addison Superior Court, criminal division.
She had until early last year shared administrative leadership of the ambulance service known as MREMS with Teena Betourney. Betourney is now the lone director of the agency that provides around-the-clock medical, rescue and ambulance services to residents in 11 Addison County communities.
A lengthy Middlebury police/MREMS investigation last year into the nonprofit’s financial records culminated in the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office filing the four felony embezzlement charges against Northup, who also served as the organization’s bookkeeper. Each of the charges carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000 upon conviction, according to state statutes.
Middlebury Police Det. Kris Bowdish — the lead investigator in the case — filed a court affidavit alleging that:
• Between Nov. 8, 2015, and Jan. 14, 2017, Northup “intentionally and secretly” purchased a combined total of $3,564 worth of items for personal use, using an Amazon account belonging to MREMS. Police allege Northup acquired the approximately 150 items through 53 transactions using an MREMS credit card.
• Between Jan. 16-18, 2017, Northrup used the MREMS bank account to pay her personal Overstock.com bill, totaling $545.36.
• Between Oct. 16, 2016, and Jan. 10, 2017, Northup paid two of her personal medical bills, totaling $1,022.33, using MREMS funds.
• On March 28, 2016, Northup paid herself $2,670.99 from the MREMS bank account “when this money was not due her.”
Court documents indicate MREMS officials became aware of some problems with the organization’s books back on Jan. 30, 2017, while ordering some new supplies.
“While looking at the previous orders (on the organization’s Amazon account), I noticed they didn’t look like supplies, they looked more personal,” an MREMS official told police, according to the affidavit.
MREMS officials and police alleged the personal purchases included such things as gift cards, pint ale glasses, a quesadilla maker, electronics accessories, toilet paper, paper towels, a 50-inch TV, a rowing machine, a Fitbit, razors and shampoo.
Court records show MREMS officials confronted Northup about the alleged embezzlement on Feb. 2, 2017. One of those officials said she recorded the conversation with Northup, and provided Middlebury police with a partial transcript.
“Lisa first denied responsibility and told us that it was an accident,” the MREMS official told police, according to court records. “After showing Lisa a list of purchases, she admitted to being unhappy with MREMS and knew that she had used the company credit card to buy her personal stuff.”
Northup agreed to quit her MREMS job on Feb. 3, 2017, according to the court affidavit. It was through that letter of termination that she allegedly confessed to having used MREMS funds to pay some personal medical bills, according to court records.
David Pistilli, MREMS board chairman, compared the alleged embezzlement to a wound from which the organization is thankfully quickly recovering. “We have a scar,” Pistilli said during a recent phone interview, “but the organization has pulled together and soldiered on.”
Fortunately, MREMS is “financially stronger today than it was a year ago,” according to Pistilli. “If there is a silver lining to this black cloud, it’s that (the $7,802 loss) is relatively small.” Middlebury Regional EMS has an annual operating budget of around $1.2 million, Pistilli said. Still, Pistilli acknowledged the organization and Middlebury police collectively spent “hundreds of man hours” combing through MREMS’ financial records during the investigation, and he hopes the organization ultimately recoups its losses.
“I don’t hold malice against the former employee … but I would like to see the organization made whole again,” Pistilli said.“So much of what we do (as a local nonprofit) is based on trust, and now that trust has been violated in our organization,” he added.
Going forward, MREMS officials have renewed confidence in the safety of the organization’s finances. Its accounting has been outsourced to a professional company, and its books will be independently audited at the end of this fiscal year (June).
Northup was released without bail and on conditions following her Jan. 22 arraignment. She is being represented by Middlebury attorney Devin McLaughlin. “Lisa has been cooperative in the investigation and hopes that it can be resolved quickly,” McLaughlin said through an email.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.
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