Former Listen director pleads guilty to fraud

Listen Community Services Executive Director Kyle Fisher at the annual Lebanon Christmas Day Dinner in 2018.

Listen Community Services Executive Director Kyle Fisher at the annual Lebanon Christmas Day Dinner in 2018. Valley News file photo — Geoff Hansen

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-28-2024 11:57 AM

CONCORD — The former head of one of the Upper Valley’s leading charities has pleaded guilty to embezzling donations, acknowledging that he spent the money for personal use and to gamble at a casino in western Massachusetts.

In U.S. District Court in Concord on Tuesday, Kyle Fisher pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud and that he is liable for paying back the nearly $240,000 he stole from Listen Community Services.

Fisher’s guilty plea is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, three years supervised release and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss, according to federal statute.

Judge Paul Barbadoro set a sentencing date of June 11. Fisher remains free on bail until that time.

Fisher requested that he be allowed to surrender for his sentence at a federal facility in Butner, N.C., which is “less than 30 minutes from where he lives” in Holly Springs, N.C., his attorney, Charles “Chuck” Reeve, of Nashua, said in court.

The guilty plea comes about 10 months after Fisher, formerly of Grantham, was indicted on four counts of wire fraud that and he stole a total of about $240,000 from Listen over 19 months in 2021 and 2022. He gambled away “a large amount of the stolen funds” at the MGM casino in Springfield, Mass., according to court documents.

Although Listen subsequently said it did not expect to suffer financial damage as a result of the embezzlement, it nonetheless raised questions about how Fisher had been vetted.

The board members that hired him overlooked red flags detailing Fisher’s troubled financial history — including bankruptcy, a prior financial wrongdoing conviction and a documented penchant for gambling — when it hired him to head the nonprofit.

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“All of us at Listen Community Services would like to thank the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire and the FBI investigative teams who we’ve been working with from the moment we first learned of this abuse of trust and authority,” Listen’s board of directors said in a written statement on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ll have more to share after the sentencing hearing.”

Fisher, wearing a light blue dress shirt and tie and carrying his suit jacket over his arm, declined to comment “at this time” after leaving the courtroom on Tuesday morning. Fisher told a reporter that he would speak publicly about his crime “at the time of sentencing.”

Asked by the judge before entering his guilty plea if he was on any medications, Fisher said that he is being treated for bipolar disorder in addition to depression. During the approximately 30-minute hearing, he clearly and directly answered the judge’s largely perfunctory questions to assess whether he was making the plea voluntarily and cognizant of the consequences.

Fisher, 43, was appointed head of Listen in 2016, working his way up after initially joining the nonprofit as a volunteer in 2013.

He succeeded longtime Executive Director Marilyn Bourne, who had led Listen for 17 years.

According to the indictment, Fisher used his access to Listen’s PayPal account, which was set up to collect donations, to transfer funds into his personal bank account at Mascoma Bank. Then he transferred money into his casino account.

He also “created fake invoices and receipts and altered the charity’s accounting records” in an effort to cover his tracks, the government said.

The next step will be for the prosecutor and defense separately to file memorandums with the judge arguing what each side thinks is an appropriate sentence for Fisher. In the plea agreement, the prosecution and defense stipulated that for determining the his sentence Fisher that is liable for making restitution of up to nearly $240,000.

Prosecution sentencing memorandums usually highlight the risks the defendant  presents to the public in pressing for the  higher end of what the statute allows.

Defense sentencing memorandums are typically accompanied by testimonials and letters from a defendant’s friends, associates, counselor and family arguing why a lesser sentence is justified.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.