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July 15, 2013

Methuen school janitor charged with embezzling loses bid to keep her job

METHUEN — The former school custodian convicted of embezzling thousands of dollars from her union had her termination appeal dismissed by the state Civil Service Commission.

Beth A. Reuter, 49, was fired after she was convicted in February of larceny greater than $250 by a single scheme and ordered to serve 30 days of a one-year sentence in jail. Superintendent Judith Scannell fired her following a hearing at jail in March, and Reuter appealed.

In her appeal, Reuter argued that an agreement she signed with Scannell in November 2011, which brought her back to work after she was arrested for embezzling the money, protected her from any further punishment.

But the commission dismissed that reasoning in its June 27 decision.

“Nothing in this plain language can be fairly construed to mean that MPS waived its right to take action against Ms. Reuter should she eventually be convicted of a crime or to terminate her in exercise of the MPS’s sound discretion in that event,” the decision said. “If that had been the intent, the parties could easily have so stated in plain and unambiguous language.”

The commission also cited state law saying a person may not be employed by a school system within a year of serving jail time, unless the school system agrees to start or continue employment. Being ineligible for employment for one year is just cause grounds for termination, the commission wrote.

“It was the right decision, definitely,” Mayor Stephen Zanni said.

Michael Hogan, Reuter’s attorney, did not return a message seeking comment. Scannell is out of the office this week.

Reuter was convicted of a felony count of larceny of property greater than $250 in value by a single scheme on Feb. 13 in a jury trial in Lawrence District Court. She was sentenced to one year in jail, with 30 days to serve and the remainder suspended for three years.

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