Former Austen Riggs finance director jailed for embezzling nearly $50k

Elizabeth Hakes. (Record file photo)

PITTSFIELD — The former director of finance of the Austen Riggs Center was sentenced to 18 months in jail after admitting to stealing nearly $50,000 from the Stockbridge open psychiatric treatment facility as well as Pittsfield-based MassHire Berkshire Career Center.
On Friday, Feb. 7, 48-year-old Elizabeth Hakes of Lanesborough plead guilty on two counts of larceny over $1,200 by a single scheme in Berkshire County Superior Court in Pittsfield.
While employed at MassHire, formerly Berkshire Works, Hakes managed federal grant funds for job creation programs. From May 2016 and August 2017, she took approximately $21,000 for her own personal use.
Court records show Hakes was hired at Austen Riggs on July 31, 2017 with a $90,000 salary, but the circumstances surrounding her departure from MassHire were unclear in court documents, according to previous reports. As the director of finance, she was considered the “gatekeeper” of the center’s finances. Shortly after being hired, Hakes implemented a new accounts payable and corporate credit card system called “Concur” to reimburse work expenses, which she approved for all employees, including herself.
Bank statements for her corporate cards included in the court documents highlight several instances of misuse of funds, including dozens of trips to local restaurants and shops, numerous large orders from online retailers like Amazon and Wayfair, a Disney vacation with her family in August 2018 and a $3,500 registration fee to a conference she never attended, but requested reimbursement for.
In October 2018, she reported embezzlement charges from her previous employer to Riggs Center Chief Financial Officer Chauncey Collins, but said she had not taken any money from the psychiatric treatment facility. She was immediately placed on paid personal leave and her corporate cards and credentials were suspended pending investigation, court documents show.
An auditor was brought in to review Hakes’ work and found evidence of personal purchases charged to her two company credit cards.
Hakes tendered her resignation in an email on Oct. 24, 2018, stating that she did use her corporate credit card for personal use. On the same day, Collins reported that paperwork had been filed terminating her employment with the hospital and that the hospital’s board had requested criminal charges be filed, as well.
Between October 2017 and October 2018, Hakes embezzled approximately $26,000 from Austen Riggs. Calls to the psychiatric treatment facility went unreturned.
According to the facility’s website, Austen Riggs hired Melissa Agosto in January 2019 as the director of finance. In that role, Agosto is responsible for financial analysis, accounting internal controls, management of accounts receivable, accounts payable and payroll, preparation of financial reports, auditor liaison, as well as all financial and tax records.
The Berkshire County District Attorney’s Office requested 18 months of incarceration and two years of probation following, according to Andrew McKeever, spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office. Defense counsel requested a suspended sentence and two years’ probation. The state’s sentence guidelines call for up to two years of incarceration.
Judge John Agostini sentenced Hakes to two years at the House of Corrections, with one of those years being suspended, and two years of probation following.
Berkshire County District Attorney stated that her office prosecutes “white-collar” crimes the same way it handles all crimes.
“This was an abuse of taxpayer money intended to help residents improve their lives,” said Harrington in a statement. “Those who work in the public sector have the responsibility to use taxpayer’s funds to strengthen the community they live in. Crimes like this undermine the public’s trust in government.”

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