PITTSFIELD -- The former general manager of a local ambulance service who allegedly stole nearly a quarter million dollars from the nonprofit -- with the help of his wife -- was sentenced on Wednesday to probation and ordered to pay back the money.

Albert Miller , 59, and his wife, Cara Miller, 58, of Williamstown, allegedly stole $240,000 from the Village Ambulance Service between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2011, according to prosecutors. During that time, Albert Miller was the nonprofit's general manager and his wife was the office manager.

Appearing with his lawyer, Anthony Gianacopoulos, Miller pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court on Wednesday to a single count of larceny over $250 as an ongoing and continuing scheme.

Second Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert W. Kinzer III said the Millers were involved in a scheme in which they paid themselves more than what they were due, sometimes paying their salaries twice or paying themselves three consecutive weeks in a row instead of every two weeks.

Kinzer said Cara Miller was more culpable than her husband in the crimes since she was in charge of the payroll and was also using the ambulance service's credit card for personal expenses, including paying their cable bill and buying items on-line at Amazon, among other purchases. Her case remains pending, he said, and "her charges will be dealt with in the appropriate manner."

She has pleaded not guilty to the same charge as her husband and an additional count of embezzlement. She is represented by attorney William A. Rota and remains free on personal recognizance.

Kinzer said an audit in 2011 first turned up irregularities and an internal investigation by the ambulance service led to the state Attorney General's Office becoming involved and the FBI being contacted before the case was turned over to the state police detectives attached to the DA's Office.

The Millers were dismissed in late 2011 and the board of directors from the period in question is no longer there, he said.

Kinzer told the court that because of the Millers' actions, the nonprofit's "donations all but dried up" and left the ambulance service on shaky financial grounds, forcing them to take out new lines of credit.

He said that his office agreed to probation for Albert Miller because the defendant was willing and able to pay back the stolen funds.

Gianacopoulos told the court his client had no previous record, had been an EMT for nearly 40 years and in that capacity had helped many people and was "trying to make things right."

The lawyer said that "not withstanding" his client's plea, they did have "a viable defense" had Miller decided to go to trial.

Erwin Stuebner, president of the company's current board of directors, told the court that while some people felt Miller deserved to be incarcerated, the board "reluctantly" agreed with the prosecutor's recommendation for probation since "the recovery of funds is most important" to the nonprofit and Kinder had made "full restitution of the diverted funds a priority" as part of Miller's sentence.

"With new professional management, a reconstituted board, and even more stringent financial safeguards in place, Village has been able to survive this difficult period and continues to provide the highest quality service to the community," Stuebner said. "Full restitution will allow us to strengthen and expand our service."

He noted this was particularly important in the face of the unexpected closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, which has put "an unanticipated strain on the EMS providers of Northern Berkshire County."

Stuebner said that during the investigation the board was unable to comment publicly about the misappropriation of funds and that the many rumors about what had taken place may have led people to "lose confidence in our service. I can now reassure our communities that our services were never compromised during this period and that we have emerged stronger than ever."

Ford said "as a general proposition" he believed someone who stole $240,000 belonged in state prison, but based on what he had been told by the parties he agreed to sentence Miller in line with the joint recommendation. 

Albert Miller paid $30,000 on Wednesday and must transfer $210,000 in stock to the ambulance service within 30 days. Ford told him that while on probation for three years if he violates his conditions he could be looking at five years in prison.

Village Ambulance Service provides service for Williamstown, Hancock, New Ashford, daytime service for Pownal, Vt., and mutual aid for Adams and North Adams, according to its website.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx:

aamelinckx@berkshireeagle.com

or (413) 496-6249.

On Twitter: @BETheAmelinckx