February 16, 2011

Suspect in theft convicted of stealing money before

Woman accused of embezzling from trial lawyers group took funds from SAD 11

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The woman charged with embezzling $166,000 from the Maine Trial Lawyers Association was a convicted felon when she was hired, having already stolen money from a public school lunch program.

Bettysue Higgins, 53, of Gardiner was hired by the association in September 2002 as an administrative assistant in its two-person office on Capitol Street.

She worked there until she was terminated Oct. 8, 2010, after the association determined $166,000 was missing, according to documents filed in Kennebec County Superior Court.

In 1991, before being hired by the trial lawyers' group, Higgins was indicted in Kennebec County on charges of theft by misapplication of property and theft by deception.

In that case, she was charged with stealing $2,045 from Maine School Administrative District 11, which educated students in Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner. She entered pleas of no contest in May 1991 and was sentenced to a five-year prison term, all suspended.

Higgins also was ordered to repay the money during a three-year period of probation. It was not clear from records in Kennebec County Superior Court on Tuesday whether that money had been repaid.

Higgins had been a teacher's aide at Gardiner Regional Junior High School and was responsible for depositing money from the school salad bar account.

In a letter to Higgins, then-Superintendent Merle Peacock wrote, "In conducting a review of the salad bar account at the junior high school for the 1989-1990 school year, MSAD 11 found a discrepancy between the amounts reported to have been taken in and the amounts deposited. There also was an irregularity in the amounts and dates of deposits."

Higgins subsequently was fired from her job, on Sept. 26, 1990.

Ronald Bourget, the attorney who represented her in that case as well as on the new charges, said Tuesday he did not know whether the restitution had been paid in the school lunch case and would not comment further.

Public records show Higgins and her husband, Michael, are in financial difficulty.

Michael Higgins told city councilors on Nov. 17, 2010, he had no money to correct a dangerous condition invollving the pool at their Clinton Street home. City officials decided to fill in the pool in the spring and bill the Higginses for the cost of the work.

Michael Higgins was convicted in 1992 of embezzling $14,000 from Gardiner's Little League Program, of which he had been treasurer. He was sentenced to seven years in prison with all but three years suspended and ordered to repay more than $16,300.

In published reports from 1992, authorities said the couple committed the thefts after falling behind on their mortgage payments for their home.

Bettysue Higgins was indicted by a grand jury Friday on charges of theft by unauthorized taking and forgery in connection with the Maine Trial Lawyers Association case. She is to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 23.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

badams@centralmaine.com

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