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(Update) Judge Denies Oxford's Request to Revoke Former Tax Collector's Pension

Town wanted to keep the pension accred by former Tax Collector Karen Guillet, who is accused of stealing more than $670,000 from her former office.

A Milford Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday the town of Oxford cannot attempt to revoke embattled former Tax Collector retirement accounts.

The town had attempted to attach two of Guillet’s three pension plans to its lawsuit against the former town official who served 24 years in her elected post before being accused of stealing more than $670,000 from municipal tax coffers over six years. But 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 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 town attorney Fran Teodosio said he was disappointed with Tuesday’s ruling.

“It means it’s less that we can attach, but the case still has to go forward,” he said. “We obviously would have preferred it to be attached, but we don’t have it.”

The civil lawsuit filed by the town is in its early stages. Tuesday’s ruling wraps up pre-judgment remedy hearings, and the case now goes into a long discovery mode before a trial is even considered.

The process of bringing any financial retribution to the town, or any criminal charges against Guillet, could take longer than most town officials or residents would like.

As of Tuesday, no criminal charges had been filed, although the State Police Western District Major Crimes Squad says it is actively investigating the case. State Police Spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said cases such as these could take up to five years to investigate because so much research goes into them. The Guillet case has already been ongoing for 15 months.

The town learned about missing money after an employee in the tax office went to First Selectman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers in December 2009 with concerns about checks found in the tax office that had not been deposited into the town’s bank account at Naugatuck Valley Savings and Loan. Town officials immediately began investigating, and Drayton-Rogers said she confronted Guillet about $3,093 that had not been deposited properly. Drayton-Rogers testified in court that Guillet admitted to stealing that check. That’s when Drayton-Rogers put Guillet on unpaid administrative leave – she later resigned – and contacted state police.

Once news broke about the case, the town began hearing complaints from residents who said they had received delinquent notices for taxes even though they had proof they had paid. Those claims totaled $671,768 when the town filed a civil lawsuit against Guillet in December; more complaints have since been filed and that number is closer to $680,000, municipal Finance Director James Hliva said.

Although Oxford’s claim for treble damages exceeds the amount in the lawsuit, town officials thought it unfair for Guillet to receive her pension. Guillet has already taken out $13,935 from one of her pension accounts and plans to use money from those accounts to pay attorney fees.

Teodosio said Tuesday’s ruling is not an order to distribute funds, and he’s looking into whether Oxford can hold onto money in the accounts.

Argument Centered Around Definition of “Creditor”

Teodosio said he challenged an interpretation of the state statute regarding pension accounts. (See his attached legal brief, as well as the brief filed by Guillet’s attorney, Dominick J. Thomas.)

In a nutshell, Teodosio states the law refers to specific pension accounts that cannot be revoked from municipal employees but does not specifically refer to 457(b) accounts. Further language in the statute states “any pension plan, annuity or insurance contract or similar arrangement not described” above in the statute… “shall be exempt from the claims of all creditors of such participant or beneficiary.”

Teodosio states in his brief that the omission of any reference to 457(b) accounts could be due to the nature of those accounts, which stipulate that, until withdrawal, the accounts are actually owned by the employer, in this case, the town of Oxford.

Teodosio’s brief states that Oxford is not a creditor and is therefore not barred by state statute from attaching Guillet’s accounts.

However, Thomas states that Oxford is indeed a creditor and therefore cannot attach retirement accounts.

His brief states:

“The first argument that the plaintiff has put forward is that the town of Oxford is not a “creditor” of the defendant. The statutes dealing with exempt property do not define the term ‘creditor.’ However, for the purposes of the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, Connecticut General Statutes 52-552(a), et seq., a ‘credit means a person who has a claim.’…Black’s Law Dictionary defines 'creditor' as a person to whom a debt is owing by another person who is the ‘debtor,’ or one to whom money is due.' Under either circumstance, the plaintiff is claiming to be a creditor of the defendant since it is claiming money is due from her. If it is not making that claim then the prejudgment remedy was wrongfully granted.”

Click to read more about the Guillet story.

ROBERT S. DELUCA April 20, 2011 at 10:43 AM
THE ULTIMATE INSULT THE JUDGE'S DECISION DOES NOT SURPRISE ME. HE IS A PUBLIC WORKER WHO IS DEFENDING THE RIGHT OF ANOTHER PUBLIC WORKER TO HOLD ONTO A PENSION AS THAT WORKER IS CAUGHT STEALING FROM THE UNATTENDED AND UNSUPERVISED PUBLIC TILL. I BELIEVE THIS CASE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ADJUDICATED BY A PUBLIC BOARD ACCOUNTABLE TO THE UNREPRESENTED TAX PAYER. IT IS JUST ANOTHER SLAP IN THE FACE TO REAL JUSTICE. GOVERNMENT WORKERS CONTINUE TO BE UNMANAGED. DISGUSTED CITIZEN
Rachael R April 20, 2011 at 11:43 AM
I do not agree, but am still perplexed as to why this is a civil case, and not a criminal one. People get arrested and have charges brought for shoplifting for goodness sake. Were charges not brought in this case? Someone with some insight please explain.
Paul Singley April 20, 2011 at 12:17 PM
Hi Rachael. Thanks for commenting. You have the same question that a lot of people have: Why has Ms. Guillet not been charged criminally even though she, according to the first selectman's testimony in court, admitted to stealing at least $3,000? We have continued to follow this up with police and they continue to tell us that it's still being investigated. What I put in the story is all we have at this point. I wish we had more information to share, but alas, we do not. We will continue to ask police as the case goes forward and try to get a better understanding of why these cases take so long. Here's what I put in the story about the criminal investigation: "As of Tuesday, no criminal charges had been filed, although the State Police Western District Major Crimes Squad says it is actively investigating the case. State Police Spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said cases such as these could take up to five years to investigate because so much research goes into them. The Guillet case has already been ongoing for 15 months."
Rachael R April 20, 2011 at 12:29 PM
Thank you Paul. anyone I have spoken with that have any legal smarts tell me that charges about the 3,000 were obviously not brought. I also am given to understand that a civil suit and a criminal suit can be filed without exclusivity. Something here is hinky.
CMG April 20, 2011 at 05:46 PM
why should she keep her pension? didn't she already give herself a pension with our money? this is such a farce. The town should be able to take anything of value that she owns to pay the town back and she should go to jail. I have never heard of someone being able to steal money and NOT get arrested for it. What a joke.
Ed Spruck April 21, 2011 at 11:49 AM
Paul, have you asked the direct question of both the State Police and the First Selectman to explain “why hasn’t Guillet been arrested when she admitted she stole $3,000 to the First Selectman and in front of witnesses” and as a follow-up “what is required to get the arrest warrant”?
Ed Spruck April 21, 2011 at 12:07 PM
CMG is says what I've been asking for a while, why hasn't the town attached every thing she/they own? Vehicles, jewelry, clothes, bank accounts, business accts etc. If they have transferred them to other entities why can’t they be sized anyway under “racketeering” laws? I just seems there is a concerted effort to shield Guillet from any unpleasant penalties. Also after the claiming for months Guillet stole $671k, now the claim is reduced to $231k with triple damages of $691k. Why didn’t the First Selectmen or Town Counsel correct previous articles quoting the $671k as stolen months ago? Is this an effort to reduce Guillet’s restitution to the town?
Ed Spruck April 21, 2011 at 12:32 PM
The article in the Sentinel said “retirement accounts . . . are protected under state and federal laws. The law prohibits creditors from attaching retirement accounts”. I would submit that the Town is not a “creditor”; it is a VICTIM OF A CRIME and a government entity not a business. We should have the right to attach her retirement accounts. Can Town Counsel explain why, as a VICTIM and government, we can't find away to attach them?
MOM April 21, 2011 at 12:50 PM
"Why didn't the First Selectman or Town Counsel correct previous articles quoting the $671k as stolen months ago?" Well, I guess they are not as perfect as you, Mr. Spruck. I am totally disgusted with the judge's ruling! She takes our money and is allowed to keep her pension???
Peter Bunzl April 21, 2011 at 04:03 PM
I'm responding to Robert Delucas comment about the judge (a government worker) defending another government workers (Mrs. Guillet) right to her pension. Certainly Mr. DeLuca is entitled to his opinion. His reference though to one public worker defending another public worker seems unfair. It seems to be open season on all government workers. Public employee's seem to be everybodys favorite target these days during these times of financial hardship for a great many people. A recent survey showed that the average salary for public workers in all public sectors was about $37,000.00. An employee in the Federal sector can only be denied his or her pension if they are guilty of treason. Thats the law. We may not like it but that's the way it is! Lets not pick on public employee's simply because they seem to be an easy target for some people.
Rachael R April 21, 2011 at 04:27 PM
No need to express anger toward Ed. I think he knows no one is perfect. However with all our human imperfections we accept responsibilities that hold us to a higher standard. Town Counsel and the First Selectman are paid positions that come with a great deal of responsibility. In this situation someone needs to explain why no criminal charges for the theft were made. It is both reasonable and responsible for citizens to seek answers, especially as to why the ball was dropped. Was it someone trying to protect Ms. Guilett...if so why? Was it an attempt to do damage control for fear of what else might be found, or was it pure ineptitude? Right around this same time the town employee that uncovered this theft was being disciplined by the First Selectman. Citizens need to know if these events were mere coincidence, or relative to what is happening in Town Hall. The fraud charges brought by the State will, no doubt, be handled more professionally. However everyone deserves an answer as to why the Town acted as they did, and how the Town plans to protect the people of Oxford from being victimized further.
Janis Hardy April 21, 2011 at 09:00 PM
With all the really smart attorneys and law enforcement professionals who read these posts daily, it is a shame that none of them will jump in and explain the laws that apply to situations like this and why this has to proceed in the manner that it is. It is a shame that so many unknowing people can speculate erroneously about the why's and wherefores when there is an explanation! It is all about knowing the laws and how and when they apply.
Rachael R April 21, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Janis, since you are clearly in the know enlighten the rest of the "unknowing people". If you type slowly, and try not to use big words we may understand.
Janis Hardy April 21, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Rachael, I am neither a lawyer nor a law enforcement professional. While I believe I have a basic understanding of the process, I would never presume I could state the various laws that apply to this situation accurately. I did not mean to imply others couldn't understand, I just wished a lawyer or other professional would take the opportunity to explain the legal process and why it has to proceed so slowly. I guess that anyone knowledgeable about the laws may choose not to respond because they don't have all the facts about the case. Just because a person admits to taking $3,000 doesn't mean they can be arrested for allegedly taking over $600,000. The burden of proof for every missing dollar over that $3,000 is the responsibility of the Town, and the Town must provide that proof, beyond a reasonable doubt. Gathering that proof requires time, and must also follow due process. If it doesn't, any good lawyer could get the case dismissed, and I am certain nobody wants that to happen. Better to take the time and get it right than to rush the process and risk losing the claim. It was unfortunate that the pension couldn't be attached as additional security for the Town, and I agree that this is extremely frustrating for everyone.
Rachael R April 21, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Thank you, but it still doesn't answer why she wasn't arrested for the $3,00 that was missing that she allegedly admitted to taking. I am not a "Legal Beagle" either, but I know multiple charges could have been made. an arrest has yet to be made. I think it is arrogant to expect people not to be given answers, and assume all is well when clearly it is not. I certainly don't feel that is your responsibility, but the leaders of this community owe the citizens some answers.
ROBERT S. DELUCA April 22, 2011 at 03:19 AM
MR BUNZL'S RESPONSE IS AVOIDING THE REAL ISSUE. MY COMMENT WAS NOT ABOUT THE COMPENSATION OF PUBLIC EMPLOYEES BUT THE LACK OF MANAGEMENT OVERSIGHT OF PUBLIC ELECTED EMPLOYEES COMPARED TO PRIVATE INDUSTRY. WHO SUPERVISES OR PROVIDES OVERSIGHT OF THE TAX COLLECTOR? LAWS THAT MAKE IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO REMOVE PUBLIC EMPLOYEES FOR FOR ILLEGAL ACTS AND MALEFICENCE IN OFFICE DO NOT COME CLOSE TO PROTECTING THE PUBLIC INTEREST. IN FACT, IT HELPS CAST A NEGATIVE IMAGE ON THE MANY PUBLIC EMPLOYEES WHO PERFORM THEIR DAILY JOBS ADMIRABLY. MR. BUNZL'S RESPONSE SOUNDS MORE LIKE A UNION REPRESENTATIVE WITH NO STANDARDS: DEFEND ANY BEHAVIOR ALL THE TIME AT THE PUBLIC'S EXPENSE.
Oxford Resident April 22, 2011 at 04:00 AM
We all agree she should be in jail and we hope sooner rather than later, but you cannot blame this administration or even Palmers because it happened under both watches. Civil and Criminal are two different things and require two different levels of proof. Civil actions can be brought by the town and requires much less proof. Criminal actions are done by law enforcement and requires an abundance of evidence. Since criminals have due process, they could request a speedy trial and if the evidence has not been fully developed, the case could be lost. Therefore, time is needed to fully investigate, gather the proof, and then move to trial where you can prove the crime beyond any reasonable doubt. This is the responsibility of the state and law enforcement, not the town or any of its officials. When hey feel they have the proof, the state will proceed.
Jim April 22, 2011 at 04:28 AM
The question is why did the audits year after year after year not discover the missing funds? Over $600.000. is a lot of money in a five year period. Exactly what did the firm audit? I sure wouldn't trust anything they audited in the past. Makes a person wonder if perhaps there is also money not accounted for in other departments that take cash.....
Leslie Wachter April 22, 2011 at 11:19 AM
That's what I've wondered about since day one. Paul, could you ask the town who was responsible for auditing the books and will they also be held accountable for not picking this up years ago? I know it took them about 5 years to nail Ganim. I'm sure they'll want to make sure every T is crossed before they press criminal charges against Karen. Hopefully, when they do, justice will be served!
Joe Hines April 22, 2011 at 11:46 AM
Unfortunately issues of inappropriate use of funds have been identified in the past. Granted not theft of funds but misuse. If you recall hundreds of thousands of dollars of surplus funds were identified as being spent off just prior to the Board of Education end of the budget year (on non-budgeted items). This discovery proved to be an unpopular identification but maybe if we followed through and truly made our finances transparent to the tax payers this would have been identified earlier.
Janis Hardy April 22, 2011 at 10:54 PM
Thank you for this explanation!
Janis Hardy April 22, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Joe, please be careful with your accusations. If the Board of Education inappropriately used funds, they were funds within the Board of Ed's budget, and not "hundreds of thousands of dollars of surplus funds"! Actual "Surplus funds" are held only by the Town, and not in any departmental budget (other than, perhaps, the Board of Ed.) The Board of Education has complete and total control of all monies appropriated to it, and can transfer funds within budgetary line items at will. I believe what the Board of Ed did was prepay expense items for a subsequent fiscal year, which is an inappropriate use of their funds.... One would like to hope that those problems have been addressed by tighter budgetary procedures......
Joe Hines April 22, 2011 at 11:19 PM
If my accusation is that public officials misused tax payers dollars I stand by it. It is apparent that we have been over taxed in this town if the tax collector was skimming and no one noticed. The Board of Education for several years would see what was left at the end of the year and then say “What else can we buy?” Rather than returning hundreds of thousands of dollar back to the town. So we had a BOE artificially inflating their budget, a Tax Collector Skimming and no accountability for OUR TAX MONEY. Governmental Spending, corruption and financial mismanagement needs to be held in check and that obviously has to start here in Oxford.

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