In a case with alleged similarities to that of Sharon Scanlon in Shelton, the former finance director of Plymouth was arrested Jan. 20 and charged by federal prosecutors with embezzling more than $800,000 from the town of Plymouth.
David J. Bertnagel, 41, of Thomaston, was released on a $250,000 bond after making an appearance in Hartford federal court.
According to the criminal complaint, Bertnagel was employed as the finance director for the town of Plymouth from July to October 2014 . For about six years prior to that, he was a part-time employee in the town’s Finance Department.
Plymouth is a town of about 12,000 people in northwestern Connecticut, slightly north of Waterbury and off Route 8.
Feds: Issued checks to himself
From about October 2011 through October 2014, it is alleged that Bertnagel issued 207 checks totaling approximately $808,030 from the town’s payroll account to himself.
Prosecutors said Bertnagel used the embezzled funds to make mortgage payments, pay credit card bills, fund home improvement projects and purchase more than $100,000 in coins, stamps and other collectibles. He also converted more than $182,000 of the stolen funds by way of cashed checks, ATM withdrawals and money orders, according to prosecutors.
Tax returns, federal funding
The complaint also alleges that Bertnagel did not file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service for the 2011 tax year and, although he did file tax returns for the 2012 and 2013 tax years, he failed to report any of his embezzled income.
Since 2011, the town of Plymouth has received approximately $450,000 in grant awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The criminal complaint charges Bertnagel with theft from a local government receiving federal funds, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.
FBI and IRS involved
This matter is being investigated by the FBI, IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher M. Mattei of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Connecticut.
Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, stressed that a complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt.
The Scanlon case in Shelton
Sharon Scanlon was the assistant finance director for the city of Shelton. She left her position in 2012 after an investigation began into her possible embezzlement of city funds. She had worked for the city for 17 years.
Scanlon was arrested on state charges in January 2013 and accused of stealing $914,000 in city money over the course of a decade, ending in July 2012.
The indictment charged her with 56 counts of first-degree forgery and one count of first-degree larceny.
She eventually pleaded guilty to one count each of first-degree forgery and first-degree larceny, and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in state prison in January 2014.
“This is a serious case — a violation of the trust of the taxpayers of the city of Shelton,” State’s Attorney Kevin Lawlor told the court when Scanlon was being sentenced.
Issuing city checks to herself
Based on court evidence, Scanlon was writing municipal checks to herself and then listing them in city ledgers as either voided or payable to other people.
Her scheme began to unravel in June 2012 when co-workers noticed a city check for $7,825, made out to no one, on Scanlon’s desk that had been voided.
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The workers wrote down the check number and later saw in bank records it had been made out to “Sharon Scanlon” but was listed as voided in the city’s check ledger.
When being sentenced, Scanlon told the court, “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make amends for this crime, both financially and emotionally.”
— as edited by Brad Durrell for the Shelton Herald
Editor’s Note: While Sharon Scanlon pleaded guilty and now is in jail, it’s important to note that David J. Bertnagel, the former Plymouth finance director, has only been charged and has not been found guilty of any crime at this time.