OXFORD — Karen Guillet would drive to her $50,000-a-year job at Oxford Town Hall in new Jaguar cars that cost more than her annual salary.
She would walk to her office wearing thousands of dollars worth of clothes and regularly receive packages at work from upscale department stores.
always acted as if she had money – like when she asked a friend to buy her $1,800 boots from Bloomingdale’s and promised to promptly repay her, or all those times Guillet had lunch catered for her colleagues on random work days. But friends and co-workers say they chalked up Guillet’s seemingly lavish lifestyle to her simple explanation about how she could afford to enjoy the finer things in life: she had a rich aunt who left her money, and she had a trust fund that her father set up for her years ago.
Friends and co-workers had no reason not to believe Guillet: though in hindsight at least one said they thought she was “a phony,” most trusted her just like the taxpayers did time and again when they voted her into office in quite a few Novembers and handed her their money – many times it was cash – every single April. It was a trust that friends and especially taxpayers would eventually come to regret.
It turns out there was no aunt, just like there was no trust fund. There wasn’t a rich husband: his construction company was making about as much as Guillet was bringing in from , where she worked as tax collector for 24 years, according to tax filings. There was, however, a gravy train that ran through the tax office every day, and Guillet learned how to steer it right to her personal slush fund.
And while Guillet spent years burning through money, in the end, it was she who went up in smoke when her embezzlement scheme came crashing down. Guillet now faces felony charges of larceny and forgery, and she will appear before a judge for the first time this morning (Monday, December 12, 2011) at Derby Superior Court.
The above description of Guillet’s lifestyle is the way it is portrayed in a 27-page, sworn affidavit chock full of juicy details about how police believe she pulled off a longtime scam that bilked Oxford taxpayers out hundreds of thousands of dollars over at least a decade. While the affidavit released last week charges the 61-year-old Guillet with stealing $243,902, a pending civil suit filed by the town claims it’s more like $670,000 and could be even higher. Police have tried to prove she stole at least $243,902 because the penalties per law do not get any harsher once the sum goes higher than roughly that amount.
Details of the alleged scheme - - are long and drawn out in the legal affidavit; they need to be in order to have the best chance at proving the case in a court of law. However, what police describe as a “lapping scheme,” is rather quite simple.
Guillet would steal cash payments and then shift checks from other deposits into the daily batch filed at the bank to make up for the cash shortages. For example, in a scenario described in court, on Aug. 10, 2009, the tax collector’s office took in $9,255 in cash, according to town records. However, just $858 was deposited at the bank for that day, town officials said. Those same officials alleged in court that Guillet took checks from different accounts to make up for the cash shortage while she pocketed $8,397 that day.
An ad hoc committee of town officials was able to prove that the amount of cash on the computer in the tax collector’s office did not match the amount of cash deposited at the bank, according to the affidavit.
“Also, checks were taken from other batches or sources in the tax office and added to the deposit with the missing cash to make up the account balance,” the affidavit states. “Therefore, the total deposit would equal the tax records, but the proper accounts were not credited. This process was repeated several times on subsequent deposits and a pattern was developed showing how Guillet would carry out her scheme.”
Police state they spent the crux of time in their two-year investigation looking into the actual missing money on 100 deposit batches in 2008 and 2009. Police said in the affidavit they discovered there was a discrepancy of $243,902 between the amount of cash that should have been put in the town’s coffers and what was actually deposited. ($339,421 should have been deposited, $95,519 was actually deposited, according to the report.)
Sharon Scinto, the assistant tax collector and the woman who ultimately caught on to Guillet, told police “it seemed that Guillet would only take advantage of certain people,” according to the affidavit. She told police of a time when a local volunteer firefighter paid his taxes in cash, the document states. Guillet told him her computer wasn’t working so she couldn’t give him a receipt, Scinto is quoted as saying in the affidavit.
“Scinto stated that fireman, whose name she does not remember, now has to repay his taxes while other taxpayers who have receipts for their cash payments are getting their accounts credited,” the document states.
Local firefighters say there are more than few people within the volunteer department who were taken advantage of in a similar way; a couple of other victims were people who actually work in Town Hall.
Not only did Guillet take advantage of laypeople, she stole from major corporations and some of the town’s largest taxpayers. The affidavit speaks of some of the biggest taxpayers also being duped, such as Yankee Gas, which the town had a give a tax credit to for $54,557 after their investigation revealed the company was not originally credited for that amount although the bill was paid.
Where the money went
The affidavit used to bring criminal charges against Guillet vividly describes her lavish lifestyle, one that was made posh with the piles of cash she is alleged to have brought in from the tax office.
The affidavit discusses how Guillet’s bank and credit card statements show purchases for upscale shoes, trips to casinos and hotels, vacations worth thousands, two separate dog walkers – one of whom she paid $100 a day, deliveries of fresh flowers once a week , a cleaning lady and purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue, among other upscale stores.
The affidavit details how in 2007, she spent $9,437 in nine months at a spa and salon in Southbury; she spent $2,382 during a one-night stay at an upscale hotel in New Hampshire. She would frequently shop at upscale stores in Fairfield County and spend between $3,500 and $6,000 in one trip, the affidavit states.
One town employee stated Guillet “lives a lifestyle quite different from anyone else who worked in Town Hall.” Another former co-worker and Guillet’s one-time friend said Guillet had hired help around her house and spent “unbelievable amounts of money on clothes, beauty treatments, vacations, jewelry, home décor and landscaping” outside of her nice but modest one-and-a-half story saltbox-style (roof) Colonial on Douglas Lane that, according to land records, features a gazebo and an in-ground swimming pool.
The affidavit also describes how a friend hired by Guillet to walk her dog and do other chores around her house would notice stacks of hundred dollar bills in her home and in her purse; the friend said Guillet would deposit between $2,000 and $3,000 in cash every week. And the friend said she’d sometimes see deposit slips from the tax office at Guillet’s house, mainly in a laundry room where it is believed Guillet kept most of the money she is alleged to have stolen. That same friend also said Guillet would frequently talk about how her house was paid off, and the friend knew Guillet put half of her salary into her retirement plan.
How she was caught
On Nov. 10, 2009, Scinto, the assistant tax collector, came across what she believed was a fraudulent deposit slip in the tax office. Scinto told police that on that day she wrote up a deposit slip totaling $30,788.88 including $3,093.43 in cash. She asked Assistant Tax Assessor Joyce Eades to confirm the cash amount. According to the affidavit, “Eades verified the cash amount because Guillet was not available at the time. Later that day, Guillet brought the deposit to Naugatuck Valley Savings and Loan. When the bank deposit bag was returned to the tax office, Scinto noticed the deposit slip was for only $27,695.46. Upon questioning Guillet, (Guillet) quickly took the deposit slip from Scinto and said she would take care of it at the bank.
“A loud discussion then occurred. Joyce Eades overheard the discussion. Scinto said Guillet never told her whether she contacted the bank or if the matter was resolved. Scinto made a copy of the deposit slip which appeared later and seemed to be in Guillet’s handwriting (officials believe she was fabricating deposit slips by making them on a typewriter) with typed bank numbers of on it, not the typical banking print and not the deposit slip that Scinto wrote or the one she had seen come out of the bank deposit bag. This was later confirmed to be the initial fabricated deposit slip.”
Scinto told police she immediately reported the incident to then-First Selectman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers and then-town attorney Fran Teodosio. The affidavit states that after that date, Guillet remained in her office for about six weeks – Guillet was put on leave on Jan. 13, 2010 - while town officials looked into the matter further. In that time, town officials told police in the affidavit that Guillet was seen and heard ripping up papers in her office and throwing them out, which the town employees described as unusual behavior for Guillet.
The affidavit also states that Guillet is believed to have taken money in the time between when Scinto first told town officials her concerns and when Guillet was actually removed from her post. The affidavit states that $4,491.83 was taken on Nov. 23, 2009, and that $11,917.86 was taken on Dec. 17, 2009.
When Guillet was brought in for a meeting with Drayton-Rogers and Teodosio on Jan. 13, 2010, she admitted to stealing $3,093. She was then put on leave and town officials began a more thorough investigation, in which they discovered her ongoing money stealing scheme as well as that Guillet seemed to have changed tax assessments, including one on her own home, the affidavit states. Town officials also notified state police.
The following month, Guillet told Drayton-Rogers she was sorry and that she had just gone to confession; Guillet said she just wanted “to go away” and never be seen again. She formally resigned on June 22, 2010.
It’s not clear just how much the stolen money ultimately impacted people’s taxes, but what is clear is that it certainly had an effect.
The affidavit states that between 1992 and 1994, Oxford had a tax collection rate around 92 percent or 93 percent – anything below 96 percent is considered by tax officials to be very bad. Guillet said the reason was because an escrow check from a bank was mistakenly deposited to the finance office, bypassing her office and not properly crediting the town’s account. (The affidavit does not describe more recent tax collection rates.)
Asked if he thought the details of the affidavit – especially those about what Guillet allegedly spent the money on – was a slap in the face to the taxpayers, Temple said he believes it is worse.
“It’s more than a slap in the face, it’s a betrayal,” he said. “She is somebody who a lot of people had a very high regard for, including me. To see this kind of a thing going on, it’s hard to take.”
interviewed by police had similar sentiments.
Tax Assessor Eva Lintzner told police she felt betrayed and hurt by Guillet’s actions.
“We were a trusting community,” Lintzner told police, according to the affidavit. “And that has been shattered.”