With their trust, she stole thousands from a rural cemetery

Treasurer Dawn Angela’s parents helped establish Machias Community Cemetery as a nonprofit.

MACHIAS — No one ever imagined Dawn Angela would steal money from the Machias Community Cemetery.

Her parents were part of the original group that bought the small cemetery from private ownership in 1982 and turned it into a nonprofit. She had helped out since she was a girl. Angela, 47, was viewed as one of the hardest working volunteers. People trusted her as secretary and treasurer, roles she assumed in 2005.

During board meetings, she would stand up and deliver a financial report. Usually they involved small purchases. No one recognized any red flags.

“We’d say, ‘Great, thanks.’ We never gave it another thought,” said Brian Holmes, a trustee whose great grandfather originally developed the cemetery in the early 1900s.

Then, in July 2016, a check to the cemetery’s groundskeeper bounced, and board members found out the power bill wasn’t paid.

Later that month, they learned someone had taken all of the cemetery’s money.

Angela pleaded guilty to first-degree theft in December. For years, she transferred funds from the organization’s bank accounts to her own, nearly monthly and without telling the board. The amount was usually between $100 and $300, but at times she would take much more. In July 2015, for example, she took $3,150.

In charging papers, she said her divorce had left her with a $3,200 mortgage. She used the money to keep current on payments, and planned to put the funds back when she sold her house.

That never happened.

Thursday, Angela was ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 20 of which will be converted to community service. Bank statements show the cemetery was out more than $17,000, according to court papers.

“It’s a significant crime,” Judge Linda Krese said Thursday. “Lots of people in their everyday lives face the same stressors that Angela does, and they don’t resort to victimizing the people and organizations around them.”

Public defender David Robertson argued for a sentence of 80 hours of community service, citing her remorse and her lack of criminal history.

“She obviously made a horrible decision,” he said. “She was too afraid, too ashamed to reach out (for help).”

Krese wasn’t convinced. It’s not uncommon, she said, for an embezzler to have no previous criminal convictions.

“That is why they are put in a position of trust, and unfortunately a position to abuse,” she said.

The theft was a big hit to a small organization powered by volunteers, Holmes said before the sentencing.

The Machias Community Cemetery only makes money by requiring fees for burial plots, he said. The prices are modest compared to other places. It doesn’t take much to run the place — they hire a groundskeeper, pay a power bill and buy gasoline and burial vaults.

The money they had saved up was earmarked for a three-acre expansion, which could provide enough space to last decades, Holmes said.

“The amount of money stolen was not large by most standards, but it was a lot of money to us,” he said.

Angela said she was ashamed of what she did.

“All I want to do is pay back all of the money,” she said Thursday.

Holmes said he and others aren’t out for blood. Thankfully, he said, people have donated money to keep operations going. He just hopes Angela can keep making restitution payments, and that the 10 days in jail gives her time to think.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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