Former Oxford Tax Collector Karen Guillet accepted a plea bargain Tuesday morning that could see her serve five years behind bars.
Guillet pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny, a felony. She faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison suspended after serving five years, plus five years probation.
In addition, Guillet will have to pay back the $243,902.18 authorities charged her with stealing from Oxford.
Her attorney, Dominick Thomas, has the right to argue for a lesser sentence.
Ultimately, Judge Richard Arnold will decide how much jail time she will do, if any.
A pre-sentence investigation report is due Oct. 29 at which time Guillet will learn her fate.
After pleading guilty, Guillet had to be helped down two flights of stairs by Thomas and her husband, Nil.
Outside court, Thomas read from a prepared statement:
“My client is extremely remorseful for her actions and for any harm to The Town of Oxford and to her family,” Thomas said. “It is her intent to make restitution to the town and to accept the decision of the court.”
Guillet was arrested in late 2011 after a nearly two-year probe by Oxford officials and state police.
She was initially charged with first-degree larceny and six counts of first-degree forgery after state police investigators said she stole $240,000 from taxpayers. All seven charges are felonies.
Oxford officials believe the actual amount stolen is much higher — roughly $600,000 between July 2003 and December 2009 — and have a civil lawsuit pending against Guillet.
According to the arrest warrant state police used to charge Guillet, the former tax collector was stealing money from Oxford to pay for spa treatments, dog walkers, spending sprees at posh stores — and weekly deliveries of fresh flowers to her home.
The scandal left the town’s tax collection system in disarray, with hundreds of residents on a tax delinquent list when, in fact, they had paid their taxes.
Oxford is looking for help from the state to guidance on how to deal with that list.
Prosecutor Kevin Lawlor summarized the case against Guillet in court Tuesday.
He said she “wrongfully appropriated” taxpayer money between 2008 and 2009 using a “lapping scheme.”
Guillet would steal cash from taxpayers, then use checks from other taxpayers to cover the missing cash.
After Guillet learned town officials were finally onto her, she destroyed some documents in the tax office, Lawlor said, in an attempt to “cover her tracks.”
Guillet was placed on administrative leave in January 2010, when allegations about her were told to then-First Selectman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers.
Sharon Scinto, working as assistant tax collector on 2010, played a key role in questioning Guillet’s practices, according to the warrant.
In November 2009, Scinto filed out a slip to deposit about $30,000 into the town’s bank account. The $30,000 included about $3,000 cash.
Guillet took the paperwork and money to the bank.
However, when she returned, Scinto noticed the bank deposit was for about $27,000 — about $3,000 short.
Scinto questioned Guillet, who allegedly took the bank deposit slip and later forged it, according to police.
Scinto’s lawyer, George Temple (who was later elected First Selectmen) contacted Oxford Town Attorney Fran Teodosio about the alleged theft. Scinto brought her concerns to Drayton-Rogers.
From there, the investigation snowballed — audits took place and the town began a lengthy and pain-staking probe to figure out how the money was stolen.
At the same time, state police started their investigation.
Scinto was in court Tuesday when Guillet pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny.
“I don’t really have a statement to make. I don’t know how I feel,” Scinto said.
Dave McKane, a member of the Oxford Board of Selectmen, said he was glad the ordeal is coming to an end.
“I think justice was served,” he said.
He said Oxford residents were worried either Guillet wouldn’t have to make restitution or wouldn’t face jail.
“I was friends with the Guillets for many, many years. Quite frankly I was a little worried the sentence wouldn’t be as severe as it was,” he said. “It’s very offensive when somebody betrays the public’s trust.”
First Selectman George Temple was also in court Tuesday.
Outside court, he deflected a question as to whether he thought the plea agreement was fair, saying he couldn’t look at the matter objectively.
“I know there are certain people who have said she wouldn’t do a day in jail. They’re wrong. There are other people who say she would do 20 years. Well, they’re wrong. It’s hard to ask me. I’m the wrong guy to ask,” Temple said.
Oxford officials weren’t the only people in court Tuesday to watch how the tax collector drama played out.
Lisa Biagiarelli, Norwalk’s tax collector, took half of a vacation day to find out the details of Guillet’s plea bargain.
She wrote a letter to Judge Arnold advocating jail time for Guillet.
“A message needs to be sent to the tax-paying public that Connecticut and its tax collectors will not tolerate this type of reprehensible behavior,” she wrote.