By Douglas Moser
---- — LAWRENCE — The Methuen school custodian accused of stealing thousands of dollars from her union was found guilty of felony larceny by a jury and sentenced to jail yesterday in district court.
Beth Reuter, 48, of Methuen, was found guilty by a jury of four women and two men of one count larceny of property greater than $250 in value by a single scheme, a felony. Judge Michael Uhlarick sentenced her to one year in jail, with 30 days to serve and the remainder suspended for three years.
Assistant District Attorney Annaliese Wolf asked for one year of jail, with the whole term suspended for three years. But Uhlarick said Reuter robbed her fellow workers while serving as secretary/treasurer of the Methuen Custodial Association and “there needs to be accountability.”
“These hard working custodians entrusted someone to control the purse strings” of the union, he said.
Methuen Superintendent Judith Scannell has not yet made a decision about Reuter’s future as a senior custodian at Comprehensive Grammar School.
“The Methuen Public Schools has just learned of the outcome of Ms. Reuter’s trial,” Scannell said. “As we are still processing information, a decision regarding her employment will be made in due time.”
Reuter did not react as the jury returned a guilty verdict after nearly an hour of deliberation. After Uhlarick handed down the sentence, Reuter was taken into custody.
Wolf on Tuesday worked to show that Reuter had written more than a dozen checks to herself from the union’s bank account amounting to $5,815 over the course of about 18 months in 2006 and 2007. She stressed the district attorney’s office believed Reuter stole much more over a longer period of time, but the Methuen Police Department only charged her for actions during that time frame.
Yesterday, defense attorney Michael F. Hogan tried to sow doubt that the funds withdrawn from the union account was spent on anything but union business and questioned the memory of witness Ken DiGuilio, the union’s current secretary/treasurer.
“What’s missing from the evidence is there’s no information about what happened to this money,” he told the jury.
Reuter also must pay full restitution, which will be determined at a hearing scheduled for April, and undergo a substance abuse interview with the probation department.
In 2007, she was charged after trying to buy cocaine in a Home Depot parking lot with her children in the car. Uhlarick said yesterday that Hogan had suggested Reuter took the money to satisfy a drug habit. “It still is not clear, though, why,” he said.
DiGuilio testified that union dues, at $10 per month, are deposited in the union account and used for donations, officer pay, a bereavement payment when someone in a member’s family has died, and for incidentals like donuts for meetings. The membership of the union hovers in the mid-50s and covers custodians at Methuen Public Schools.
Reuter was originally charged with one larceny count for each of the checks she wrote to herself, but those all were consolidated into the single felony larceny by scheme charge, which encompassed all the checks.
The checks were discovered after an 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 bets of thousands of dollars on sports 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.
Scannell fired Reuter on May 26, 2011, after criminal complaints were filed in 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 salary was bumped back up to $62,905, the rate she was payed 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 for an unredacted copy of the agreement was denied.
Winn resigned in June 2012.
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