The saga of an ill 69-year-old woman who embezzled more than $1.5 million from a Keene-based toy company and handed the money over to an alleged extortionist, her faux family and a casino neared its conclusion Monday.
Anne M. Everett was sentenced in Cheshire County Superior Court on two felony counts of theft by unauthorized taking and could spend the next 14 years in prison.
Everett, a former Keene resident who had been living in Candia, suffers from lung cancer and will likely die behind bars, said her public defender, Michael C. Shklar.
“Mrs. Everett is not long for this world,” he said during the hearing. “That’s a sad fact.”
Everett pleaded guilty in December 2007 to masterminding a complex embezzlement scheme targeting Douglas Co., where she worked for 44 years as a controller in the accounting department.
She was responsible for paying the company’s bills, signing checks and reconciling accounts.
Because of her age and failing health, Shklar had recommended that Everett serve a minimum of two years in prison, while Assistant Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen G. O’Reilly argued for a sentence of 14 to 28 years.
“This was a massive undertaking by the defendant to pull the wool over the eyes of the people that trusted her,” O’Reilly said in court. “She had to doctor the books repeatedly, constantly, for years.”
Judge John P. Arnold ultimately ordered Everett to serve seven to 14 years behind bars and pay $1,524,087 in restitution to Douglas, a family-owned business that manufactures and imports stuffed animals and other toys.
The likelihood that Douglas will ever see a fraction of the embezzled funds is slim because Everett gave away or spent the cash and she doesn’t own a home or have life insurance, O’Reilly said.
Everett actually gave the bulk of the stolen money to an alleged extortionist and a group of people she considered to be her family but are of no biological relation, according to court testimony. She used the rest to pay bills and play bingo at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut, according to court testimony.
“I don’t have an answer for this defendant because she doesn’t fit any molds for conventional criminal activity,” Shklar said during the hearing. “Her motives were not selfish. She did not live high on the hog. There were no fancy cars. There were no fancy houses.”
Shklar called Everett’s case “one of the strangest that I have seen in 23 or 24 years” and O’Reilly described Everett’s motives as “puzzling at best.”
From at least January 2003 to December 2006, Everett wrote checks from the Douglas account to herself and others, forging their names and cashing the checks without their knowledge, according to court testimony. She also opened a fraudulent credit account under the company’s name, O’Reilly said.
While Everett’s scheme did not financially cripple the company, it hurt employees because their annual raises were cut to make up for the lost funds, according to Douglas President Scott T. Clarke.
“This has been a breach of trust and friendship that has been very detrimental to our company,” he said in court in support of the state’s sentencing recommendation. “It certainly has affected our company deeply. … She was a friend to my parents. She was a friend to all of us. Something like this should not go unpunished.”
Shortly before launching the embezzlement scheme, Everett came into a small inheritance and distributed the money to a group of people that had taken her in after she moved from Maine to Keene as a young woman, Shklar said.
When her inheritance dried up, Everett decided to write a check to herself from the Douglas account so she could continue to provide for the group.
“She considered them all to be her family. She had nieces, nephews and grandsons,” Shklar said. “She liked that people thought she had money and could help them out.”
Everett said in a brief statement during the hearing that she was “just trying to keep everyone safe” and apologized for her crimes.
She had already cashed a few fraudulent checks when Donald C. Whitten, 59, formerly of Keene, learned of the scheme and threatened to harm her or notify authorities if she didn’t give him money, Shklar said.
“Mrs. Everett was genuinely terrorized by this extortionist,” he said. “He turned this scheme into what it became.”
After she’d already given him thousands of dollars, Everett decided to cut off Whitten, who was her “nephew” and the black sheep of the family, according to Shklar.
“He was constantly in trouble and never had money,” he said.
When Everett cut off the cash flow, Whitten sent an anonymous e-mail to The Sentinel and another regional paper blowing the whistle on the embezzlement scheme, Shklar said.
“He essentially killed the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said.
Whitten was later arrested and charged with attempted theft by extortion and receiving stolen property, both felonies. He has pleaded guilty to both charges and is scheduled to be sentenced June 12 in Cheshire County Superior Court.
It’s impossible to know exactly how much money Whitten received from Everett because it was given to him in cash and checks, Shklar said.
Meantime, Everett plans to request a sentencing review by a panel of three judges in Concord. The panel could increase, decrease of leave her sentence unchanged.
Everett secured a better fate by negotiating a plea with prosecutors rather than facing trial, Shklar said.
“The state has a paper trail a mile long and a mile wide and a full confession from Mrs. Everett,” he said outside the courtroom. “Mrs. Everett’s trial could have been ugly. The state could have sought additional charges and broken down each transaction over $1,000.”
In prison, Everett will receive cancer treatments as needed and may be sent to the N.H. State Prison in Concord because, unlike the women’s prison in Goffstown, the facility has a full-time nursing staff that can provide long-term care to inmates, said Jeffrey J. Lyons, department of corrections spokesman.
Everett would be separated from the all-male inmate population, Lyons said.
“We would diagnose her and provide whatever medical treatment is necessary,” he said. “We have people who spend significant periods of their prison incarceration bedridden for medical treatment. … We can also bring them to the hospital if need be.”
Inmates who are terminally ill or severely debilitated can qualify for medical parole under a state law that became effective June 2004. Since then, only six prisoners have qualified, said John F. Eckert, executive assistant to the state’s adult parole board.
Eckert said he receives a few medical parole requests every month from inmates saying they have cancer, diabetes, heart conditions or other ailments. But without a referral from the doctor at their facility, they’re not even considered candidates.
“The only inmates that we’ve been asked to consider have been granted parole,” Eckert said, “but they literally cannot walk out of here. They have to be wheeled out.”