AUGUSTA, Maine (From news reports) -- An Augusta woman sentenced 15 years ago for embezzling more than $400,000 from the now-defunct Maine Pulp and Paper Association has been ordered to keep paying restitution after having paid back just over one-tenth of the stolen amount.
Wendy L. Gagne, 43, of Augusta, who was bookkeeper and later controller for the association, has now been ordered to pay $200 a month toward the remaining balance of $352,082, which Justice William Stokes calculated as the restitution amount still owed.
Gagne had quit paying restitution when her probation ended in 2009. By then, she had repaid a total of $47,917, which included $32,600 paid to the association around the time Gagne was sentenced to an initial 30 months in prison, with the remainder of the seven-year sentence suspended and four years of probation. She was ordered to pay restitution up to $400,000.
The new restitution order issued at the Capital Judicial Center on Thursday followed a hearing a week earlier at which Gagne testified about her ability to pay.
Her attorney, Robert Sandy, had argued against the restitution continuing because, among other things, the organization dissolved earlier this year and so there is no victim remaining to pay.
The state, through Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh, had sought a restitution order, noting that no payments had been made for eight years. "We're not seeking a consequence beyond setting up a payment plan today," Cavanaugh told Stokes at the hearing.
Cavanaugh said later the money would be paid to the Kennebec County District Attorney's Office, which would first try to pay the officers of Maine Pulp and Paper, and if that was not possible, it would be sent to the Maine Crime Victims' Compensation Program.
Sandy was unavailable to comment Monday morning on the order, which he had apparently just received.
Gagne had pleaded guilty in October 2002 to a charge of theft by deception, which occurred between January 1997 and March of 2002. At the time, the assistant district attorney told the judge that Gagne wrote hundreds of checks to herself and recorded them as being sent to vendors.
She was one of three employees of the association.
Gagne was arrested at her Augusta home in December 2016, charged with failing to appear in court on a failure to pay restitution charge.
When Gagne took the stand on April 28, she testified that she and her husband also signed over deeds to three properties they owned in Augusta, Gardiner and Pittston; however, there was no accounting for the value. Sandy indicated he had attempted to contact attorneys for the Maine Pulp and Paper Association to try to get some of the figures, but had not gotten a response.
Gagne also testified she runs a day-care business in a home she rents, and all the income goes to keeping up the maintenance.
She said she does not take a paycheck from it and has no other source of income, has owned no real estate since 2003, no stocks, bonds, mutual funds or health insurance for herself.
Gagne estimated she could afford $200 a month.
Stokes set a follow-up hearing for June 30 if needed, saying, "This is more complicated than the typical restitution."
Stokes also read aloud from the defense sentencing memo which indicated Gagne was aware of her obligation to pay restitution, was committed to it and "understood it would survive her period of probation."
He rejected Sandy's motion to dismiss on the basis that the alleged victim is no longer in existence as a nonprofit corporation.
"Restitution is intended to be compensation," Sandy said. "In the absence of the pulp and paper association, there's nobody left who can have a loss."
The Maine Pulp and Paper Association, an industry trade group with an office in Augusta, filed papers to dissolve in January 2017, citing dwindling membership. Attempts to reach the most recent chairman of the association, Donna Cassese, were unsuccessful on Monday.
Sandy also said he believed that the association might have collected from its insurer as well as from any lawsuit they might have brought against the auditors who apparently missed it for five years.
A news story from 2002 about Gagne's guilty plea indicated the association's insurance company reimbursed it for $10,000 the maximum available for the incident under the policy.
Cavanaugh said if it turns out that the full restitution amount has been repaid, the district attorney's office, which collects restitution payments, would reimburse Gagne.