SALEM — Marie Morey of Lawrence is a courthouse accounting clerk who devised a "very elaborate, intricate and sophisticated scheme" to embezzle more than $2 million from the Lawrence probation department over three and a half years, a prosecutor said yesterday.
"Almost every day she was at work, there were deficits and money missing," said Assistant District Attorney Michael Patten, referring to an auditor's review of Morey's recent attendance records.
But Morey's defense attorney said Morey, 38, of 18 Greenfield St., is a "homebody" with a GED, who lives a humble life and struggles to make ends meet for her children, ages 10 and 16.
Attorney John Valerio, who described the $2 million allegation as "shocking," equated the theft to "taking two hay bales of money out of that court ... by one woman that's nothing more than an accounting clerk."
Judge Timothy Feeley set bail at $400,000 cash for Morey after her arraignment on larceny of property over $250 and filing/publishing a false written report charges yesterday in Salem Superior Court.
Morey is accused of manipulating records and bank deposits from January 2006 to August 2009 and stealing $2,037,725.21 in restitution and fees paid to the probation department's account.
In setting bail, Feeley cited 30 trips the prosecution said Morey recently took to the Dominican Republic, the fact she's bilingual, and the possibility she could have a large amount of cash at her disposal.
"She may very well have the better part of that money available for her to flee," Feeley said.
It was unclear yesterday what prosecutors believe Morey did with the money. Patten made no mention of the money's location in court and a spokesman for District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett declined to comment. Steve O'Connell said the investigation continues.
Feeley also said if Morey does make bail she would be required to wear an electronic monitoring device pending trial. But after the arraignment, Valerio said Morey would not be able to put up the bail money.
"She does not have those kind of resources in no way, shape or form," he said.
Born in Methuen, Morey has lived her entire life in the Merrimack Valley and Valerio said he has known her for 15 years. A U.S. citizen, Valerio previously surrendered her passport when she was arrested in September. Valerio argued for lower bail and an electronic monitoring bracelet so Morey could avoid jail and take care of her children.
"All of her family are here. Her children are here," Valerio said.
Valerio also disputed Morey's trips to the Dominican Republican, saying she took 10, not 30, recent trips to the Dominican Republic to visit her mother who has since moved to the United States.
Morey has no formal accounting training but learned "by doing in that courthouse," he said.
Valerio said accounting problems were acknowledged in the courthouse in past years, conditions that made other workers "throw up their hands" and leave their jobs.
State Auditor warned of problems
In July 2007, State Auditor Joseph DiNucci warned that Lawrence District Court needed to take better control of money received. An audit conducted then "identified cash reconciliation and recording issues that were ongoing for as many as ten years."
Of the probation department, "there is limited assurance that the probation office records are accurate and assets are adequately protected."
If convicted, Morey faces up to five years in jail.
Police had initially arrested Morey on Sept. 30, charging her with larceny over $250 for allegedly manipulating records and bank deposits and stealing $6,350 from the probation department.
She was out on bail Wednesday night when state police arrested her again at her Lawrence home. She was secretly indicted during the day on the new theft charges.
Early yesterday afternoon, after spending the night at the Danvers state police barracks, a shackled Morey was escorted into court in black sweatpants, a yellow sweatshirt and running shoes. She quietly answered "not guilty" when asked to enter a plea in court. She was flanked by Valerio and fellow defense attorney Fred McAlary, who did not speak during the arraignment.
Patten had asked Feeley to impose $2 million cash bail, roughly the same amount Morey is accused of stealing from the probation department from January 2006 to August 2009.
In her role as accounting clerk, Morey was the only person who knew how to override or make adjustments to the payment receipt system in the probation department, he said. Payments included fees and restitution payments, which came in cash and money orders, Patten said.
Emphasizing her flight risk, Patten pointed to Morey's passport, which shows 30 trips to the Dominican Republic in the past several years, he said. Eight of those trips "were one-day turnarounds" and Morey always flew from New York City to the Dominican Republic, said Patten.
A court accounting clerk for 19 years, Morey's job responsibilities included maintaining accounting records, tracking payments and preparing bank deposits, Patten said.
OPERATION UNDETECTED BY SUPERVISORS
Patten said Morey used "six different methods of operation" to avoid detection by her fellow employees and supervisors. The missing money was detected after a routine audit of the probation department that started in February. After a variety of documents couldn't be located, a full team of auditors were sent to the courthouse in May, Patten said.
Morey was supposed to reconcile payments on a monthly basis but admitted to auditors last spring that she hadn't done so since November 2008, Patten said. As the audit progressed, Morey was again unable to produce "certain critical documents" or explain why the documents couldn't be found.
Auditors discovered discrepancies in bank deposits that contained cash and money orders. Patten said he asked if the "runner," whoever dropped the deposits at the bank, could have taken the money. But he learned from auditors that the deposits, prepared by Morey, were sealed in a plastic delivery device.
"The paper trail always ended with (Morey)," Patten said.
On July 17, when auditors again questioned Morey about specific probation accounting procedures, Patten said she became "nervous, disoriented" and vomited.
"That was the last day the auditors saw (Morey)," Patten said. "That was the last day she was in the office."