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'Cloud Over Oxford Lifted' After Former Tax Collector's Arrest [Videos]

Town officials express relief investigation is over, discuss changes in tax office.

First Selectman George Temple wasn’t in office when the former tax collector was accused of embezzling more than $670,000 from the town. But he says he heard plenty of frustration about it during his campaign for the town’s top political seat.

“I went door-to-door and met many people who lived on fixed incomes who quite frankly couldn’t make it; it’s very difficult in this economy,” he said. “And they told me how upset they were about this. This one particular individual said, ‘How could we let somebody take money from the taxes that they work so hard to pay?’ And you know, that’s a hard question to answer.”

Town officials have been grappling with that same question for the past two years since allegations of the money-stealing scheme by 24-year elected official Karen Guillet, 61, first came to light and angered just about every taxpayer in town. Though Temple doesn’t have that answer, he said current and former town officials have worked hard to find a solution that assures it doesn’t happen again.

Standing side-by-side at a news conference at Oxford’s Town Hall on Wednesday just hours after , Temple and new Tax Collector Cayenne Spremullo, both Republicans, discussed those changes.

Spremullo explained that Temple has agreed to her request to order a new computer for the tax office that simplifies the tax collection process.

“So there is no reason for myself or the assistant tax collector to take money from the taxpayer, walk away from them and count it at our desk,” she said. “Any transaction will be processed immediately, right in front of them on the terminal.”

Temple said he’s appointed someone who currently works at Town Hall to help Finance Director Jim Hliva conduct an audit of the tax collections on a weekly basis. He said that will help to restore integrity to the tax collector’s office in Oxford.

“I’m not going to say that it could never happen again,” he said. “But we have taken steps to make sure that it will be a lot harder” to steal.

Oxford's tax office has also become more secure since, under the direction of Town Clerk Margaret West, the town used grant money this week to install surveillance cameras at the tax collector’s office as well as at the town clerk’s office – in the vault and at the front desk. And former interim Tax Collector Jackie Orner oversaw a plan for the tax office to accept credit card payments for the first time in an attempt to ensure the office will have to take fewer cash transactions.

The scam

It was cash transactions that helped Guillet carry on a scheme that former First Selectman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers said lasted at least 10 years.

Investigators figured out that Guillet was taking in more cash than her records indicated and making up the difference by using checks from different accounts. The investigation by a bi-partisan group of local officials revealed at least six instances of this scam - hence the six counts of forgery Guillet is facing.

The scheme was fairly simplistic: for example, on Aug. 10, 2009, $9,255 in cash was taken into the tax collector's office, according to town records, and just $858 was deposited at the bank. Checks were then taken from different accounts to make up for the cash shortage, officials believe. Town officials believe similar money floating scams happened several times over a long period.

A Superior Court judge, who is overseeing a pending civil lawsuit Oxford has filed, described the defrauding process as a sort of Ponzi scheme.

Former official is relieved 

Drayton-Rogers, who at one time was friends with Guillet, a fellow Democrat, expressed intense relief upon hearing the news on Wednesday. Drayton-Rogers said she was not invited to the news conference but attended anyway.

“I want to say how relieved I am that this has finally come to a conclusion,” she said.

She thanked police and the committee she appointed to investigate the claims, a group that included Hliva, the town finance director, former first selectman candidate and town administrative aide Joe Calabrese, and Board of Finance member Jack Kiley, who were aided by town attorney Fran Teodosio. Drayton-Rogers said the group provided state police major crimes squad investigators with all of the information they needed to make an arrest.

She also noted that although the investigation process took longer than she and many residents would have liked, it was shorter than it could have taken – state police said such investigations could take up to five years and this one took two. She believes that is because the town, through its search committee, was thorough in its investigation and forthcoming with information.

Drayton-Rogers said she hasn’t spoken to Guillet since the investigation first took place. In one of their last meetings, Drayton-Rogers asked Guillet about information that came to her about roughly $3,000 that wasn’t accounted for in the office. Drayton-Rogers asked several times where the money was until Guillet finally confessed to taking it. Guillet then said, “I’m glad it’s over,” Drayton-Rogers testified in court.

On that day in January of 2010, Guillet was put on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. She resigned about five months later. Town officials will attempt to recoup money from her – $100,000 that the town bonded to buy insurance for the integrity of the tax collector position was returned to the town already under Drayton-Rogers’ tenure – but a Superior Court judge ruled the town cannot revoke her pension.

Judge Arthur A. Hiller said state and federal law prohibits the town from doing so.

The two accounts that the town attempted to take were 457(b) plans, the public sector equivalent of 401(k) accounts. Those two plans are worth $145,398 and $14,900, respectively, or $160,298 total. That amount would have been attached to the civil lawsuit on top of the town’s claim for treble damages, which means Oxford can get triple the amount of actual damages that town officials say they were able to prove was missing after they reviewed a sampling of tax payments between 2007-09 and cross referenced them with bank deposit slips. That amount was $233,322, which, when multiplied by three, equals $699,396.

Oxford said Guillet stole at least $670,000 via the scheme, which went back to at least 2000, Drayton-Rogers said, “if not earlier than that.”

“But there are statutes of limitation,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want to speculate on what Guillet spent the money on. “We were asked (by police) to look only into a certain number of years (about six) and that’s the information we provided to them.”

Although town officials may never know the full extent of the crimes, Drayton-Rogers is satified that the arrest “raises a cloud that has been over this town on this matter.”

“It really has been the most significant situation that the town has faced in many, many years,” she said. “So, for all of us, as I said, it’s a huge, huge relief.

“You can’t help but feel bad for the individual involved,” she said. “But we’ve known based on information provided that this has been long in coming…. Now it’s going to be up to the courts to see that justice is served for all of the residents in this town.”

‘The day Oxford will gain justice’

Temple said he believes the cost of what was stolen has already been passed on to the taxpayers, whom he believes were overtaxed in one way or another over several political administrations.

Still, he said there is money out there that can be recouped and that money will be put to good use if Oxford obtains it.

When asked by a TV reporter whether there was any advice he would pass on to other towns to make sure this sort of crime doesn’t happen, Temple said all municipal officials have to be aware of and be cautious of complacency and “taking things for granted; believing in personalities rather than a system of accountability.”

“I think that is where Oxford went wrong,” he said. “We’re kind of a rural community and there is a lot of trust, there is a lot of neighborliness. That’s one of the beautiful things about our town. But as much as I certainly trust Cayanne (Spremullo), I’m going to verify that she is doing the right thing.”

Temple said the town will look to regain the trust of taxpayers - like a woman he met on the campaign trail. It was a young mom who was irate over the tax collector situation.

“She believed that this should be brought to justice,” he said. “And today is the day that Oxford will gain justice.”

Bonnie December 01, 2011 at 12:01 PM
I'm relieved to hear that Karen G has been arrested. It's time for her to face the music, she's created this mess for herself and needs to spend some time behind bars. She's not much different than Bernie Madoff, she's just on a smaller scale. Hundreds of thousands instead of millions and or billions, I don't understand greed, she was living a pretty good life with her husbands salary alone! She was far from broke! Anyways, she deserves what she gets! I hope she is honestly sorry for what she's done in our town!
Lorraine Destefano December 01, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Will karen face federal charges also since I doubt she reported the stolen money as income on her tax returns?
Paul Singley December 01, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Not that I know of, but that is a good question. Will look into it. Thanks
Craig Zac December 01, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Sweet!! Those are my photos hanging on the walls in those videos..lol. I went to remove them last night and saw all the News vans, I thought it was about the guy in the lake. I thought maybe they found him. Im glad this woman is finally going to answer for her crimes. I posted on the Naugatuck Patch that, Maybe she spent it all at the casino... I know I could lose 670K in a few Hours on the slots with my luck!
Craig Zac December 01, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I always wondered about this... if she reports it she gets caught, if she doesnt report it, when she gets caught she gets into trouble for NOT reporting it... lol my question is, say she did report it, paid the taxes on it abd was later caught, does the IRS have to give the $$$ she paid for taxes back to who ever she stole it from? Wouldnt that be like, Recieving stolen property on the IRS's part?
Ann Gamauf December 01, 2011 at 04:37 PM
I know the solution to make sure this never happens again: HIRE a tax collector. It's ridiculous to vote for one - party affiliation has nothing to do with performing a job properly.
Diane H. December 02, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Shall we do the same for the Town Clerk?
John M. Joy December 02, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Yes.
kathy johnson December 02, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Just remember that when you choose to hire an employee the party that controls the BOS may choose someone along party lines anyway.
Blake Denham December 04, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Really MDR, "You can't help but to feel bad for the individual involved"? YOUR close friend did NOT feel bad for the children of OUR town who she stole from! She lined her pockets, of her new expensive clothes, with the money of hard working families in Oxford who paid taxes so that she could steal it. How many times did she go to the casinos to gamble with monies that could have, and should have been spent educating our children? How many times during your friendship MDR did she pick up the check for dinner with tax payers dollars that she stole? How many new clothes did she buy with monies meant for the our roads, our fire departments, and police departments? Our dog pound is a disgrace and those animals have suffered because you feel bad for "the individual involved"? Our ambulance corps could have had better equipment to served town, but no. It went to buy new shoes for the "individual involved" and not our public services!!! YOU can't help but to feel bad for her? I feel bad for the children who could have had better text books to help them plan their future. YOU feel bad because she's YOUR friend! Her nice, shiny imported Jaguar could have helped pay for many things NEEDED in OUR town. You only feel bad that her arrest was carried out under the new watch of George Temple and not your's. Mr.Temple removed the door to the Selectman's office for ALL to be heard! Bye, bye MDR, Don't let the door hit you in the.........oh! Wait! There is no door!
Rachael R December 04, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Blake: Truer words were never spoken!!!!
Ed Rowland December 05, 2011 at 12:42 AM
I don't think MDR is upset about the arrest being done under the new administration.The former BOS dealt with the issue accordingly and sadly was confined to the speed at which the state police moved with the investigation.With that being said everyone have a nice evening and enjoy the holiday season.
Pinch Hitter December 05, 2011 at 01:13 AM
Blake, you are showing your true self...my boy, you appear to have some issues! You appear to want to place blame on Mary Ann, but what about your good friend Augie? This was happening for 4 years under his watch and he never caught on, why not blame him as well. Who cares when the arrest happened, at least it happened, which is what we all wanted anyway. I hope George finds some way to reward you because without you as his head cheerleader, the Republicans wouldn't have such a good representative of their party. Ra Ra George!
Rachael R December 05, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Ed: Although I vehemently disagree with you about this issue, I love that you always find something positive to say. Best wishes to you and yours for the holidays! Hope you get that boxed set of Porky's cds for Christmas. lol
Rachael R December 05, 2011 at 01:27 AM
Pinch: I think what is at issue, and has yet to be fully explained is how this criminal offense was dealt with after it was discovered...was it covered up? Was the Tax Collector tipped off and given time to get rid of incriminating evidence etc? Whether you like it ,or not questions linger about Guillets personal choice for Town Counsel prosecuting this case and her friendship with MADR. The question is would it have been dealt with the same way if it had been uncovered under another administration, Democratic, or Republican;I think not.
Ed Rowland December 05, 2011 at 01:50 AM
Good evening Rachael,While I may or may not know you personally I think people can agree or disagree with one another and still be respectful.I am able to do that with most people although there are a few that I find it very hard to be respectful to.Best wishes to you and yours this holiday saeson and the boxed set of Porky's cds is on top of my list.Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Craig Zac December 05, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Ed, Porky's? really? C.mon..... Porky's? lol,lol,lol,lol...... Just kidding! just playing off the whole "Dissagreeing" thing here on Patch..lol Man, I just realized, I could have made some comment about only a Democrat (or Republican) would want a Porkys boxed set of DVD's for Christmas... lol or I could have blamed MADR for you wanting it... She takes the heat for everything else around here. Happy Festivus All!!!
Craig Zac December 05, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Personally? I would never have taken the door of MY office I were him... Id want to hid from all you maniacs who are ready to crucify ANYONE who has even the least bit of power... yeah, Not only would i keep the door on but id put a bunch of locks on it and hire a few goons to stand guard too. It seems the Residents of oxford are a tuff crowd. lol
Edna E. Cruz December 09, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I am curious as to how far back your investigation went (remember, she was 24 years in service and from hearsay, another employee was forced to resign due to discrepancies in the department for which she placed blame on him). Additionally, I am very curious as to what is the accountability of the auditors, etc. who never picked up on this 24-year discrepancy to begin with? I am, however, pleased with your new appointment of Town Counsel and, of course, your new finance person.

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