EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 1, 2013

Methuen school custodian appeals firing

By Douglas Moser

---- — METHUEN — The school custodian fired last month after being convicted of stealing from her union has filed an appeal of her termination with the Civil Service Commission.

Beth A. Reuter, 48, filed on March 15 a just-cause appeal for her termination, which was issued March 7 and made effective Feb. 13, the day she was convicted by a jury of six in Lawrence District Court for writing thousands of dollars of checks to herself from her union’s checking account.

Superintendent Judith Scannell said she received a letter from Civil Service this past week, but could not comment on the appeal.

Attorney Michael Hogan, who represented Reuter during her trial and is working on her Civil Service appeal, also refused to comment.

Christopher Bowman, who is chairman of the Civil Service Commission, confirmed Reuter’s appeal and said her hearing is scheduled for April 16. Filings in cases still before the commission are not released as public records unless one side or the other requests the proceedings be public, he said.

At trial, Reuter was accused of stealing $5,815 over the course of about 18 months in 2006 and 2007 from the checking account of the Methuen Custodial Association, of which she was treasurer at the time. She was convicted of a felony count of larceny greater than $250 by a single scheme and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

She served her time in MCI Framingham and at Essex County Jail in Middleton and has been released, according to officials from the state Department of Corrections and from Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins’ office.

The checks were discovered after a new officer in the Methuen Custodial Association reviewed account records in 2011. Patrick Winn, a former custodian at Methuen schools and a one-time secretary/treasurer, was charged with stealing $22,400 from the union. He pleaded guilty to a single felony larceny charge in September and was sentenced to one year of probation.

Methuen police arrested Winn in March 2009 on gambling charges after two men said they placed thousands of dollars in sports bets with him. He admitted to sufficient facts for one of the charges, and his case was continued the case without a finding, according to court documents.

In 2007, Reuter was charged after trying to buy cocaine in a Home Depot parking lot with her children in the car. Reuter’s trial judge, Michael Uhlarick, said in court last month that Hogan had suggested Reuter took the money from the union to satisfy a drug habit.

Scannell originally fired Reuter on May 26, 2011, after criminal complaints for larceny were filed in Lawrence District Court, and Reuter appealed to the Civil Service Commission. Reuter and the School Department signed a settlement agreement in November 2011 that brought her back to work, at a lower base wage that totaled $43,222.40 per year. Six months later, on May 27, 2012, her pay was bumped back up to a salary of $62,905, the rate she was paid before she was fired, according to School Department records.

Civil Service did not issue any ruling in that case, and Reuter withdrew her complaint as part of the agreement.

Scannell released a copy of the settlement agreement to last summer, but key terms of the agreement were redacted. A request to the School Department last month for an unredacted copy of the agreement was denied.

Winn resigned from the School Department in June 2012.

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