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Merrimack Valley treasurer sentenced to six months for youth league theft

The former treasurer for the Merrimack Valley Youth Baseball and Softball League was sentenced to six months in prison yesterday for stealing more than $16,000 from the organization.

Michelle Toupin, 45, of Boscawen will serve six months in prison, then five years of probation after she is released. Judge Larry Smukler of Merrimack County Superior Court also ordered Toupin to pay $6,868 in restitution in addition to the $10,000 she has already repaid. Smukler said he would reduce the probation to three years if Toupin does not violate the terms of her release and pays restitution in full, but he rejected the defense counsel’s request for a 10-day prison sentence.

“People who are placed in positions of trust, as you were, have a certain responsibility that needs to be adhered to,” Smukler said. “This kind of betrayal really can’t be tolerated.”

Toupin wore a red-and-black checked button-down shirt and navy pants, and dabbed her eyes with a tissue as Assistant County Attorney David Rotman recited the details of the theft. Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors were prepared to prove that between March 4 and Aug. 21 of last year, Toupin withdrew $15,531 from the league account in 125 separate transactions. She cut herself checks and used the league debit card for personal use, said Rotman. Including the bank fees and transaction fees related to the activity, the league lost $16,868.

“The last four months have been awful, awful, awful,” said Eric Crane, league president. “When all of our energies should have been spent on taking the next step to make the league bigger and better, we have had to do damage control.”

Toupin spent league funds at Dunkin’ Donuts 11 times and made purchases at the 99 Restaurant, the Common Man, Olympia Sports, Burlington Coat Factory and Bed, Bath and Beyond. She also purchased applications for her smart phone.

“It appears the defendant’s purchases were driven in part by want or greed,” Rotman said.

He acknowledged Toupin did not have a prior criminal history and that she cooperated with investigators. In arguing for the six-month prison sentence, Rotman cited the repeat nature of the offenses and said she was entrusted with the league’s finances.

“By stealing from the Merrimack Valley Youth Baseball and Softball League you betrayed the trust of countless children and parents, and affected the league’s ability to go forward,” Rotman said.

Before sentencing, a teary Toupin turned to league officials in the gallery and apologized. She said the spending started in small amounts and escalated out of her control.

“It was not something I planned on doing. There were circumstances and there were reasons, but there was absolutely no excuse for what I’ve done,” Toupin said. “There is nothing I can say that will make this right. Please know I am deeply sorry, and I hope someday you will find it in your heart to forgive me.”

The framework of Toupin’s sentence had been set earlier this month when she agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of theft. Defense counsel Glenn Geiger asked yesterday for a 10-day prison sentence with the balance of the six months suspended. “We don’t feel a long period of incarceration is going to help anybody,” Geiger said. He described Toupin as a loving mother and wife who was active in the community. She was a licensed nurse assistant who had cared for a Concord man for 11 years. He also said Toupin’s mother died last spring, at the same time as some of the spending.

“That would be a reason or an excuse, and she’s not offering any of those. She’s still trying to deal with why she did it and what she did,” Geiger said.

When Deb Wentworth decided to step down as league treasurer, she volunteered her time to teach Toupin how to do the books. She said her worst fear was realized when the league accounts had been drained. “It’s not the adults that got hurt. I’s the kids that are going to be impacted by this,” she said.

The theft has crippled the league’s finances, Crane said. “She bankrupted our league. Not only to zero, but to negative $4,000,” he said. The $10,000 restitution from Toupin was used to settle debts related to the original theft. Baseball and softball leagues will run as scheduled this year, but the program will not be able to offer as many scholarships to families in need. Uniform and equipment budgets will be reduced as the league scrambles to find sponsorships for next year.

“You’re going to little mom-and-pop shops. They are our sponsors. I have to go back early and say, ‘I need more money, and I need it earlier because someone stole our money,’ ” Crane said. “That’s embarrassing. That’s devastating.”

Annual revenues are about $30,000, and running the league costs the same, said Crane.

Registration fees, sponsorships, fundraising and donations account for the league’s income streams. Wentworth said the league will have to turn to the community for help.

“I’m hopeful that the community is going to step up again and they are willing to help,” she said. “I don’t know if they will. I don’t know if I can blame them after this.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com.)

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