WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - The former CFO of a Cavendish, Vermont based solar panel installation company has been sentenced for embezzling over $55,000 from the business.
Vicki Thornton, 55, of Ludlow pled guilty to a single felony count of embezzlement this week and received an entirely suspended 1-to-3 year sentence with three years of probation.
Victims David and Danielle Bonta, who founded the Sundeavor company in 2001, addressed Judge Timothy Tomasi during Thornton's sentencing hearing and described the confusion and financial pressures Thornton caused them when in 2016 she began diverting company funds into her own bank account.
David Bonta said he had entered semi-retirement and was making plans to turn the company over to his employees when the company's fortunes began to nose dive.
"Our bookkeeper, Ms. Thornton, kept telling us there was not sufficient funds to pay our bills," Bonta recalled. "I made sales as best I could but it seemed like it was never enough, or so Ms. Thornton would tell me. So I took field jobs in the winter as an installer. I had become the oldest member of the crew at age 62."
It wasn't until almost a year later, in the spring of 2017, that Bonta said he discovered that "while I was trying to build our business back up Ms. Thornton was transferring funds" into her own bank account at the rate of up to three times a month.
Bonta told the judge that, adding insult to injury, after the embezzlement was detected and Thornton was fired she had issued her own severance check and allegedly paid herself over $4,500 for unused vacation days, which was not a benefit the small company offered to any of its employees.
"After Ms. Thornton's termination my wife had to come out of an 11-year retirement to help get our company back on track," Bonta said, adding that he had considered Thornton a friend and had even loaned members of her family money over the years to help start their own businesses.
"Our trust, generosity and consideration were misplaced and violated," Bonta concluded.
Thornton's defense attorney, Brian Marsicovetere, said that she had been under severe strain at the time and that she had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
"She will live with this (conviction) for the rest of her life," Marsicovetere told the court," noting that Thornton had an otherwise spotless record and had raised four children.
"She does regret very much what happened. It snowballed and got away from her. She had tremendous financial difficulties and she is not proud of what happened."
When it became her turn to speak, Thornton began by saying "I just want to apologize. I wasn't trying to be malicious. This was totally unintentional and I didn't mean to hurt Danny or Dave or the business in any way, shape or form."
Judge Tomasi accepted the plea agreement which came with a number of probation conditions barring Thornton from overseeing or handling other people's money without advance permission from Probation officers.
The agreement also calls for Thornton to eventually pay back over $30,000 in restitution for the uninsured portion of Sundeavor's losses.
"Obviously this is a serious offense," Judge Tomasi said from the bench. "That's why it's a felony (because) it involves a breach of trust."
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