Why? Why did Sharon Scanlon scheme to steal money on a monthly basis from the city of Shelton while working as its assistant finance director?
That was the question of the day in court on Thursday, Jan. 30, when Scanlon was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison to be followed by five years on probation. She was accused of stealing $914,000 from the city over a decade.
During remarks in the courtroom, the question was repeatedly asked by the prosecutor, by her defense attorney, and by the judge.
Why did a seemingly good person, with a good job, good family, nice house and many friends, go the wrong route? Why did she steal?
Prosecution: Case is ‘a puzzle’
“This case, in a lot of ways, is a puzzle,” said State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor, speaking for the prosecution.
Lawlor said Scanlon was essentially “an outstanding citizen” who had a well-paying job, making about $80,000 a year in her government position.
Yet, about once a month for an extended period, Scanlon would steal from $7,000 to $10,000 from city coffers, “almost like it was a second paycheck,” Lawlor said.
“Why do good people do bad things?” asked Lawlor, acknowledging there isn’t always a clear-cut answer.
“No one will know what was going on in her head,” Lawlor said.
“What the heck?…” he at one point asked, searching for the reason behind the thefts.
At another point during his presentation, Lawlor did present a theory. “I don’t see any other explanation than greed,” he said.
Her lawyer: Bills had to be paid
William Dow III, Scanlon’s attorney, did attempt to offer a partial explanation for how the stolen money was spent.
Dow said Scanlon needed the money to pay credit card bills and the mortgage, being her family’s primary bread-winner.
He said these bills added up to $11,000 a month at times, and Scanlon took on the responsibility of paying them. “She was doing it for her family,” he said.
Dow pointed out Scanlon was sidelined to battle breast cancer for awhile, and her husband had fallen off a roof and suffered substantial physical injuries.
But he also said Scanlon’s actions were “inexplicable” — essentially, as he put it, an irrational act by a rational person.
Dow stressed that Scanlon didn’t live extravagantly. He said there was no ski chalet in Vermont. He said the funds weren’t spent on gambling, drinking or any other particular vice.
He said Scanlon should have sought outside guidance on the family’s financial challenges, but — due to her personality — wasn’t capable of doing that. “That’s her limitation,” Dow said.
Judge: Living ‘the American Dream’
During his remarks before issuing the sentence, Judge John Ronan asked the same question. “How can a person as good as you come to do this?” Ronan said to Scanlon.
The judge said Scanlon was basically “an all-American person…living what might be called the American Dream.”
However, Ronan said it’s important to note that most hard-working people “never succumb to the temptation” of stealing money, especially public funds.
The judge also focused on the time when Scanlon had breast cancer, saying most people use such challenges to re-evaluate their lives and priorities.
And yet, Scanlon kept stealing from the city while dealing with her medical issues, Ronan said. “Only you can answer that,” he said of her illegal behavior during this time.
Ronan did suggest why Scanlon probably stole the money toward the end of his comments. “It was greed, not need,” the judge said.