PITTSFIELD -- The former office manager of a local ambulance service was sentenced to three months in jail on Tuesday after admitting to stealing $240,000 from the nonprofit.
Cara Miller, 59, of Pownal, Vt., also will have nine months of further jail time hanging over her head during a three-year probation period after Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup sentenced her on Tuesday.
Appearing with her attorney, William A. Rota, in Berkshire Superior Court on Tuesday, Miller admitted her guilt and apologized to Village Ambulance Service, her family and friends and to the court.
"It was very wrong," the defendant said of her actions and asked for a chance "to set things right."
Miller and her husband, Albert Miller, 59, stole the nearly quarter of a million dollars between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2011, according to Second Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert W. Kinzer III. During that time, Cara Miller was the ambulance service's office manager and her husband was the general manager.
Kinzer said the couple was involved in a scheme in which they paid themselves more than what they were due, sometimes paying themselves double or giving themselves pay checks three weeks in a row, over the course of several years. Additionally, Cara Miller used the company credit card to buy personal items and to pay cellphone and cable bills.
Many of the items she purchased at Staples went to her online scrapbooking business, the prosecutor said.
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. It was eventually turned over to the Williamstown Police before coming to the state police detectives attached to the DA's Office.
The Millers were dismissed in late 2011, he said.
On Tuesday, Cara Miller pleaded guilty to single counts of felony embezzlement and larceny over $250 as an ongoing and continuing offense.
Her husband pleaded guilty to a single felony in April and was given three years' probation.
The money has been paid back, according to Kinzer.
The prosecutor asked for a two-year jail sentence followed by two years of probation, telling the court that although the company has been paid back, its reputation suffered and its donations, which it relies upon to keep going, "dried up" after the revelations of the Millers' crimes. He said the crime was larger than just the theft since it was from an organization that provided a vital service to the community.
Kinzer said there is now a new board of directors in place, the company's services were never compromised, and the company is moving forward.
Erwin Stuebner, president of the company's current board of directors, told the court that because Cara Miller was the "primary perpetrator," she should serve time in jail for jeopardizing the service that provides emergency care to several communities and to "send a message to others."
Rota said that the financial problems of the company were not solely due to the Miller's actions but had to do with changes in the medical industry.
He said his client was very involved in the community, had fully cooperated with police in the investigation and has already suffered greatly -- losing their incomes and house and becoming "pariahs" in Williamstown.
The Miller's eldest daughter, Kate Miller, spoke on behalf of her mother as did a family friend, Chris Jones.
Kate Miller said her mother was a teacher, caregiver and mentor who has lived a life of service.
Jones said he has known the Millers for about a decade and that Cara Miller is a "selfless, dedicated" woman.
There were more than a dozen family and friends in court to support Miller on Tuesday.
Cara Miller told the court that she has reflected on her actions and believes that because it had been run like a family business for so long -- it was founded by the Miller family in 1927 and became a nonprofit in 1982 -- that there were "no clear lines" between work and home. She apologized for her actions.
Rota asked that his client be sentenced to a two-year suspended sentence for three years, during which time Cara Miller would have been on probation, plus 1,000 hours of community service.
Rup said while it was obvious to her from the number of family and friends who showed up to support her and the numerous letters sent on her behalf that Miller is "a very caring woman" who is "generous with her time" and a great mother, wife and friend. But, the judge said, she could not overlook the theft of "a very significant amount of money" from a "vulnerable enterprise."
While the money had been paid back and the defendant's husband was given probation, Rup said she felt some incarceration was necessary in the case.
"Mrs. Miller's role was much more significant," she said.
She sentenced her to two years at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction for two years, with three months to be served and the rest of the time -- a year and nine months -- to be suspended for three years during which time she will be on probation. While on probation, Cara Miller must perform 500 hours of community service and refrain from working at any charitable organizations in any capacity requiring her to handle money.
The judge allowed a stay of execution until July 1 so the defendant can attend her daughter's wedding.
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:
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