Merrimack County judge upholds most of con woman’s sentence
A Merrimack County jury finds Karen Gagne guilty on all 11 charges of stealing from Jane Fair between 2007 and 2009; Wednesday, August 17, 2011. ( Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Three months after the state Supreme Court upheld nearly all of the convictions against an Andover woman charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from an elderly friend, a Merrimack County judge yesterday followed suit with her remaining punishment.
In sustaining all but six months of her minimum 10-year prison sentence, Judge Larry Smukler, acknowledged that Karen Gagne had become a seemingly model inmate – flawless disciplinary record; praise from peers and corrections staff – but said that alone did not warrant a more sizable reduction, as defense attorneys requested.
“You perhaps are beginning on the journey to taking responsibility,” Smukler said. “But you are not very far.”
Gagne, 59, was convicted in 2011 of siphoning more than $500,000 from Alice Jane Fair of Concord by selling the nearly 90-year-old’s assets and draining the bank account the two shared, which Gagne had created ostensibly to pay Fair’s bills.
In November, the Supreme Court upheld nine of Gagne’s 11 theft convictions. It overturned two counts concerning a personal account established before the joint account was created in 2007. Gagne’s public defender, Brooke Belanger, asked Smukler yesterday to suspend five years from her minimum sentence. Belanger submitted letters from fellow inmates and corrections officers who praised Gagne’s character, and said her client had proven herself as a rare confidant and role model for younger prisoners.
But state prosecutor Ben Agati said the letters, which note Gagne’s strong work ethic, attention to detail and positive interaction with others, merely substantiate his and others’ concerns.
“None of those were ever in question,” Agati said of the attributes. “It took attention to detail, and a sunny disposition, and tremendous interpersonal skills to scam Jane Fair the way that she did.”
“What these letters really tell us,” he said, “is that, while the defendant is incarcerated now, she is still the same person she was when she went in.”
Belanger called that attack unfair.
“Essentially, my client can’t win,” she said. “Either she misbehaves in prison and the state would be standing here saying she’s misbehaving, or she behaves, follows the rules, tries to be a positive presence in the prison.
“And now she is being characterized as preying upon (other inmates)? There’s no win for her.”
Fair, who died last year, was not the only victim of Gagne’s deception. Gagne was also convicted in 2012 of persuading three women to invest nearly $200,000 in a bogus real estate venture, Agati said. That case ended with what’s called an Alford plea, meaning Gagne did not admit guilt, but rather acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.
But Fair’s case was perhaps the most notable, if not for the sum total of the theft, then for the age of the person deceived.
“The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t change the fact that the defendant took one of the most vulnerable members of our society – as you heard someone who has a trusting soul – and emptied her bank accounts until she was almost evicted,” Agati told Smukler.
For her part, Gagne, who sat through the hearing yesterday in khakis and a red prison shirt, expressed remorse before the court.
“Contrary to what other people may think, I do take responsibility for my actions, my failures,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. She said she hoped to devote the years after her release to working with juvenile delinquents, teaching them “marketable horticultural skills,” she said.
“My goal,” Gagne said, “is to be productive and pay my debts.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, email@example.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)