Great Barrington official allegedly stole over $100K from town coffers

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PITTSFIELD — A longtime Great Barrington employee is facing larceny and embezzlement charges for allegedly stealing over $100,000 of town money while working in the treasurer/collector's office.

Deborah Ball, 63, of Great Barrington, was released on her own recognizance on Wednesday after her arraignment in Berkshire Superior Court.

A former assistant treasurer/collector who worked in the office for approximately 35 years, Ball was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 21 after an audit discovered that money was missing from the town coffers.

Ball was fired on March 15, and was indicted by a Berkshire County grand jury on July 31.

Investigators allege she essentially ran a "Ponzi scheme" by embezzling real estate and excise taxes paid to the town in cash, and then trying to cover up those losses by applying portions of check payments made by other taxpayers to account for shortfalls in cash.

"As public officials, we have a responsibility to represent our communities and keep their best interests in mind, but Ms. Ball failed in that critical duty," said Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington in a prepared statement. "In bringing these charges, we are holding Ms. Ball accountable for betraying the trust that the community placed in her."

Town officials first flagged the alleged thefts in a 2018 audit performed by the independent firm Scanlon and Associates. Troopers with the State Police Detective Unit attached to the Berskhire District Attorney's Office led a criminal investigation into the matter with assistance from the Great Barrington Police Department.

After the arraignment, Harrington said the audit was still in progress and there could potentially be additional amounts of embezzled funds that are discovered. She said the audit found indications of impropriety dating back to 2012.

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"It's very frustrating I'm sure for the taxpayers, very frustrating for the people of Great Barrington, to be victimized by somebody who was in a position of trust and owed the town a fiduciary duty," Harrington said.

She said the investigation so far indicated Ball acted alone in what she described as a pretty complex scheme. And she said it remains unclear what happened to the money.

"The Town of Great Barrington will continue to work closely with our auditors and state and local authorities until this matter is resolved," said Great Barrington Town Manager Mark A. Pruhenski in a statement released Wednesday. "

The Town has implemented proper controls to prevent this type of incident from happening again in the future."Pruhenski noted the town is bonded and insured against such losses.

The treasurer/collector's office collects residents' property, personal and excise taxes, as well as sewer bills and alarm charges and permits. The office also takes payments for the Great Barrington Fire District Water Department.

The town's website says the treasurer/collector "works to maximize investment earnings while keeping the funds 100% secure and safe and in accordance with Massachusetts General Law and our investment policy."

Ball pleaded not guilty before Judge Karen L. Goodwin to one count each of larceny over $1,200 by a single scheme and embezzlement by a municipal or county officer.

A pretrial hearing was set for Jan. 8.

Ball's attorney, Judith Knight, declined comment following the arraignment.Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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