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Former treasurer pleads guilty to stealing teachers' union funds

NORTHAMPTON — The former treasurer of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association avoided jail time but must repay $9,000 in connection with thefts from the association over a six-year period.
Elizabeth Walsh, 46, of 4 Highland Circle, Hadley, pleaded guilty to one count of larceny over $250 before Hampshire Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup last week.
The thefts occurred between 2006 and 2012, according to the Northwestern District Attorney’s office, and totaled about $112,000.
According to court records, Walsh will have to repay the balance in monthly installments of $500 as part of her release conditions.
Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jayme Parent, who prosecuted the case, requested a two-year jail sentence, one year of which would be served directly with the balance suspended for a period of five years.
Instead, Rup sentenced Walsh to two years, but suspended the entire sentence for a five-year period during which she will be on probation and must repay the $9,000 to the association. She must also seek and maintain employment, in a job that does not involve handling money or financial transactions, and undergo a psychological evaluation and counseling.
Walsh stole a total of $112,000 from the association, according to Parent. She paid back $66,000 in spring of 2012 and insurance covered the remaining $46,000.
The $9,000 in restitution covers a $1,000 insurance deductible and the $8,000 cost for the independent auditor hired to complete a review of the association’s account, Parent said.
According to court records, in the summer of 2011, the teachers union became aware it was behind in dues payments to the Massachusetts Teachers Association in the amount of about $96,000.
In March 2012, Walsh admitted that she had taken money from the association, saying that she had gotten behind in her expenses and had “gotten in over her head,” according to court files.
Former Amherst School Committee member Irv Rhodes, who was chairman at the time, said that he is glad that Walsh will avoid jail time.
“This puts the whole sad thing in back of everyone and that’s a good thing,” he said. “No one thinks she’s a bad person, but sometimes good people do bad things and they have to face the consequences.”
Katherine Appy, who currently chairs the committee, said, “It’s a very sad situation that I think was handled very well by the APEA.”
When interviewed by Amherst police in April 2012, Walsh admitted she had written checks to herself from the APEA account and deposited them in her personal account.
She also showed documentation that she had made a repayment to the MTA of $66,000 as reimbursement, court records show.
Pignature & Sagan LLC, which conducted the audit, showed that $112,436.27 in unauthorized or improperly documented payments to Walsh were made from APEA accounts.
Reporter Nick Grabbe contributed to this story.

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