Lee woman pleads guilty in embezzlement of $378,000 from former Lenox National Bank

A Lee woman has pleaded guilty to conspiring with another teller to embezzle 378,000 from the former Lenox National Bank. She is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15 in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

LENOX — A former bank teller has pleaded guilty in the theft of $378,000 from the former Lenox National Bank between 2008 and November 2013.

Melissa J. Scolforo, 47, of Lee, entered the plea at U.S. District Court in Springfield on Thursday, acknowledging that she conspired with another teller in the embezzlement from the institution, which has since been purchased by Adams Community Bank.

The other teller, Bernadine Powers, 40, of Becket, was indicted May 5 on the same charge — embezzlement and concealing the crime by falsifying bank records.

Scolforo, who was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Powers indictment, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 15 by U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office in Springfield, Scolforo — a teller at Lenox National for 24 years — and Powers took cash from teller drawers and bank vaults for spending on travel, shopping, dining out and payment of household bills.

The announcement was made in Boston by U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and Harold H. Shaw, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Goodwin prosecuted the embezzlement case at the Springfield office.

The maximum sentence for Scolforo could be five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, but a lighter sentence is expected to be imposed by Mastroianni based on federal sentencing guidelines and other factors. Scolforo was released into her own custody following her plea.

At the hearing, Goodwin told Mastroianni that Scolforo confessed to the thefts during an internal audit in 2013.

"Ms. Scolforo went up to the vice president of the bank [Joseph Leskovitz] and told the vice president the count was going to be off because she has stolen money," Goodwin stated, adding that the embezzlements continued for five years because required quarterly audits were not conducted at the bank.

According to Goodwin, Leskovitz "trusted the tellers to simply tell him how much money was in their drawers and the vault and he would simply sign off on them" because he had other things to do.

Powers and Scolforo were dismissed in November 2013 after the bank's auditors finally detected the scheme. In early March 2014, Lenox National President Paul Merlino fired Leskovitz, his longtime No. 2 executive and a 30-year employee, for violating bank procedure resulting in the loss of funds from bank reserves.

Scolforo's attorney, Elizabeth Quigley, told The Eagle on Friday that her client is "extremely remorseful for what she has done."

"From the beginning, Ms. Scolforo has wanted to accept responsibility for her actions," Quigley said. "She was immediately cooperative with all investigators at the state and federal level."

"She has met with the federal investigators including the FBI and provided substantial information about her role in this matter," Quigley said. "At her sentencing on Sept. 15, we know that the judge will consider all the attendant factors in formulating a fair and just sentence."

Powers, who pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to embezzle bank funds and make false bank entries, is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on June 21 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson, who released her on personal recognizance.

The federal sentencing guidelines indicate she could face up to 33 months in prison if convicted, as well as forfeiture of personal property as restitution.

The indictment against Powers states that, in addition to conspiracy, she made false entries in bank records on six dates between February 2011 and November 2013 to conceal the cash thefts. She is represented by Pittsfield defense attorney Leonard Cohen, who declined comment on the case Friday.

The investigation was initially handled by Lenox police before the FBI took over the case.

Depositors' accounts at Lenox National Bank were not affected. Merlino retired last year after Adams Community Bank purchased Lenox National for a $14.3 million cash transaction.

After the deal was approved by federal regulators, Adams Community took over the Lenox bank last Oct. 19. Adams Community has about $475 million in assets and seven other full-service offices in Adams, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Lee, North Adams and Williamstown.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.