State Police arrest former Cumberland Fire District collector for embezzlement

State Police arrest former Cumberland Fire District collector for embezzlement

Lambert was released on $20,000 personal recognizance and is scheduled to appear in court on June 2

CUMBERLAND - Former Cumberland Fire District Tax Collector Karen Lambert, 48, was arrested last Friday for the alleged embezzlement of funds from the Cumberland Fire District and a Woonsocket property management company. Col. Steven O'Donnell, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, announced that members of the State Police Financial Crimes Unit made the arrest.

In June of last year, police received information that tax payments were missing from the Cumberland Fire District. The investigation by the Financial Crimes Unit led to the execution of a court-authorized search warrant on the district's tax collector's office to secure financial records.

Fire officials cooperated fully with the investigation and hired a company to forensically review their financial records. Based on the resulting investigation, an arrest warrant was obtained for Lambert alleging that she:

* Embezzled $83,761 in cash tax receipts from the Cumberland Fire District from September 2008 through August 2013.

* Used Cumberland Fire District money to pay for and install a new personal home computer system at her Cumberland residence at a cost of $700.

* Embezzled $11,667 from a Woonsocket property management company where she worked as a bookkeeper and used the money in an attempt to cover her theft from the Cumberland Fire District.

Lambert, of 15 West Wrentham Road in Cumberland, was appointed to the position of assistant tax collector at the Cumberland Fire District in September 2006 and promoted to tax collector in June 2008.

Lambert was processed at Rhode Island State Police Lincoln Woods Barracks and arraigned on two counts of felony embezzlement in Sixth Division District Court before Associate Judge Christine Jabour. She was released on $20,000 personal recognizance and is scheduled to appear in Sixth Division District Court on June 2 for a pre-arraignment conference.

The penalty for a person convicted of felony embezzlement is a fine of not more than $50,000 or three times the value of the money or property embezzled, whichever is greater, or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both.

Jim Leonard, Cumberland Fire District chairman of the board, said a settlement has all but been signed with the insurance company for the district to be reimbursed the $83,000 that was embezzled. Once the deal is final, money should be back to the district within a week, he said.

That amount includes money owed to the Woonsocket real estate company, he said, which the district officials have totaled at about $19,000. He said the investigation into that account could still be ongoing, which is why the State Police came up with a different figure.

All money received will go into the treasury, he said, with $20,000 already paid to the CPA and lawyer Richard Ratcliffe of the Providence-based Ratcliffe Harten Burke & Galamaga LLP.

Leonard said he believes the district got all that it could out of the settlement, with auditors looking back in the books five years.

"We think they went right to the penny," he said. "We're pretty sure that's it."

Leonard said steps are now in place to ensure this does not happen again. A CPA now reviews the accounts for an hour or two every month, the tax collector is not permitted to write checks, and Leonard himself signs off on all checks, he said.