Teller at former Lenox National Bank charged with embezzling $378,000


LENOX — A teller at the former Lenox National Bank is under federal indictment for allegedly conspiring to embezzle $378,000 from the bank between 2009 and 2013.

Bernadine Powers, 40, of Becket, allegedly stole the funds from teller drawers and the bank's vault with an unidentified co-conspirator, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Goodwin.

Powers was arraigned Thursday and the case details were disclosed online Tuesday.

The indictment, which was issued April 14 followed a two-year investigation, states that Powers used the stolen money on multiple occasions for personal expenses such as travel, shopping, restaurants and household bills, according to court records. The scheme involved false entries in bank records.

Powers made false entries in bank records on six dates from February 2011 to November 2013 to conceal the theft of cash from teller drawers and bank vaults, the indictment states.

She is represented by veteran Pittsfield defense attorney Leonard Cohen. Contacted on Tuesday, he had no immediate comment on the charges.

Lenox Police conducted the initial investigation before the FBI's Springfield office took over the case.

Two tellers were fired in November 2013 after the embezzlement scheme was detected by internal auditors. Then, on March 6, 2014, Executive Vice President Joseph Leskovitz, a 30-year bank employee, was terminated for violations of bank procedure that resulted in a monetary loss.

Longtime bank President Paul Merlino notified customers about the firing, adding that the missing money was from bank reserves and not from depositors' accounts.

Merlino retired last year after the 125-year-old Lenox National Bank, located in an historic building at 7 Main Street, was sold to Adams Community Bank. Prior to the sale, the bank had been one of the only free-standing, independent banks in the county.

After the revelation that Leskovitz had been fired, Merlino told The Eagle that he felt "stabbed in the back" by his veteran deputy manager.

Merlino noted that while "money can be replaced since it's insured, reputation is built over the years and it's our primary concern. We want to show stability and strength."

"We're hurt over the loss of funds," he added, "but we're devastated over the loss of trust."

Town officials were shocked by the disclosure.

Selectman David Roche, board chairman at the time, noted that the bank had been an institution in Lenox. It had first been located in a portion of the current Town Hall on Walker Street.

Powers pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Springfield to one count of conspiracy to embezzle bank funds and make false bank entries.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson released her on personal recognizance and scheduled a pretrial hearing for June 21. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Powers could face up to 33 months in prison if convicted of the conspiracy charge.

The indictment states that if Powers is convicted, she would be asked to forfeit any of her property as restitution for the embezzlement.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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