GREAT BARRINGTON — A former town employee has been arraigned for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 over the course of three years.
On Wednesday afternoon, 63-year-old Deborah Ball of Great Barrington was charged with embezzlement by a municipal officer; and larceny over $1,200 by a single scheme at Berkshire County Superior Court.
At the arraignment, she entered a not-guilty plea.
Ball worked for the Town of Great Barrington for nearly 35 years, most recently as the town’s assistant treasurer/tax collector.
A 2018 financial audit performed by South Deerfield-based Scanlon & Associates first uncovered the illegal actions, according to the Berkshire County District Attorney’s office.
With assistance from the Great Barrington Police Department, detectives from the Berkshire State Police unit attached to the district attorney’s office led a criminal investigation into the matter.
Through that investigation, evidence was discovered showing that Ball had stolen in excess of $100,000 through a fraudulent “Ponzi” scheme that was carried out in the tax collector’s office.
Auditors determined that Ball embezzled real estate taxes and excise taxes that business owners and residents paid in cash to the Town of Great Barrington.
According to the Berkshire County District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Ball tried to cover up the losses by applying portions of check payments made by other taxpayers.
There is, however, still work being performed on the final audit report.
“As public officials, we have a responsibility to represent our communities and their best interest in mind, but Ms. Ball failed in that critical duty,” Harrington said in a statement. “In bringing these charges, we are holding Ms. Ball accountable for betraying the trust that the community placed in her.”
On July 31, Harrington obtained an indictment from a grand jury charging Ball with committing felonies over the course of three years — and possibly longer.
Ball was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 21. On March 15, she was released from employment with the town.
Since this incident has unfolded, the town has implemented controls to prevent this type of incident from happening again in the future, said Great Barrington Town Manager Mark Pruhenski.
Though he did not elaborate on the controls that have been implemented, Pruhenski did note that the town is bonded and insured for losses such as this.
Karen Fink is the town’s treasurer/collector. Ellie Smith has been serving as the town’s interim assistant treasurer/collector. Pruhenski said he plans on appointing someone to the assistant treasurer/collector position soon.
The town has also advertised an opening for an administrative assistant/finance department employee that will assist both the accounting and treasurer/collector offices.
“The Town of Great Barrington will continue to work closely with our auditors and state authorities until this matter is resolved,” said Pruhenski.
A pre-trial has been scheduled for Jan. 8, 2020 and presumptive trail for May 20, 2020.