CONCORD - A Weare woman, hired to manage the finances of disabled New Hampshire residents, will spend 13 months in federal prison for stealing $52,000 of their Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits.
According to a news release issued by U.S. Attorney John P. Kacavas, Heidi Lacerte, 48, pleaded guilty in November 2012 to embezzling the money. She was sentenced Friday and, upon release, is to make $55,000 in restitution - $4,810 to the Office of Public Guardian (OPG) and $50,210 to American States Insurance Co.
Lacerte was employed as an estate manager for the OPG, a private nonprofit corporation that provides guardianship and advocacy services to hundreds of legally incapacitated adults in the state, including those with developmental disabilities, mental illness, dementia and traumatic brain injury.
According to court papers, she handled the finances for the disabled individuals and embezzled $52,000 from 23 individuals, using the money for her own benefit.
Lacerte admitted to embezzling the money by writing checks to herself drawn against beneficiaries' funds; purchasing gift cards using money from the beneficiaries' accounts, and taking cash intended for the disabled beneficiaries and using it for her own benefit and that of others.
The thefts took place at a time when Lacerte and her husband were building a home. According to documents filed by her attorney, James Moir of Concord, the contractor stole money from their construction loan and the couple had to take out a second loan to pay the subcontractors. It left them with the inability to pay other expenses.
Lacerte, a mother of three, kept the family's dire financial circumstances from her husband and, as the embezzlement took place, sought treatment for anxiety and depression, according to Moir.
The attorney, in arguing for a lighter sentence, said Lacerte had always held down a job. He said the embezzlement was an aberration for Lacerte, a first-time offender.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division, the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigation, and Concord police. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Arnold H. Huftalen.