• Plea deal set in $120,000 embezzlement case in Vt
    By Eric Blaisdell
     | December 06,2013
     

    WATERBURY — A Duxbury woman is facing a federal felony embezzlement charge that accuses her of taking about $120,000 from Cold Hollow Cider Mill and the Harwood Youth Hockey Association.

    According to court records filed this week, Michelle Rutledge, 46, was the office manager and bookkeeper for Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury from 2000 until June. She also served as treasurer of the youth hockey association, also known as the Friends of Harwood Hockey, from 2011 until June.

    If convicted, she faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

    Rutledge has reached a plea agreement, although the U.S. attorney’s office did not reveal the terms. She is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Brattleboro on Dec. 30 for arraignment and a change of plea.

    According to the U.S. attorney’s affidavit, Rutledge used Cold Hollow credit cards without authorization to make purchases for her own benefit. She also allegedly made electronic transfers of Cold Hollow funds to pay for goods and services for her own enjoyment. She is accused of taking the money from 2007 until June.

    The affidavit also says Rutledge used hockey association credit cards without authorization to buy things for her own benefit and wrote checks in the association’s name to pay for goods and services for herself from 2011 until June.

    The U.S. attorney’s office said Thursday that the amount taken from the two organizations totaled about $120,000.

    Paul Brown, owner of Cold Hollow, issued a statement Thursday evening saying the owners and employees of the popular tourist attraction were “shocked and disappointed” to learn a former employee allegedly had been stealing from the business for several years.

    “Michelle Rutledge was the first person we hired after we bought the cider mill in 2000,” the statement said. “She resigned on May 15, and an investigation began shortly afterwards. As owners and managers we will learn from this experience and move ahead. The Cold Hollow Cider Mill is an excellent business with a talented staff and a bright future. We have already made a number of changes in staff responsibilities and in our business practice that will reduce the possibility of this happening in the future.

    “We are a small business located in a small town. When somebody whom we know and trust takes advantage of our trust it threatens our belief in the values that we all share. On behalf of our staff and employees, we offer our sympathy to the innocent friends, community and family members who will be impacted by this news.”

    The president of the hockey association, Angela Well, also issued a statement Thursday evening.

    “Since June 2013, the Harwood Youth Hockey Association has been in full cooperation with authorities regarding the embezzlement of funds from the program. Our main goal since the summer has been to get our players on the ice and to assure they have a full and successful hockey season. With the help and support of our hockey families, the Ice Center of Washington West, the Vermont State Amateur Hockey Association and our community(,) we are well on our way to achieving this goal,” the statement said.

    According to the hockey association’s website, it was formed in 1980 as a nonprofit organization for the purpose of teaching the game to boys and girls from Waterbury, Duxbury, Moretown, Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston. The Ice Center of Washington West, which opened in 2003 in Waterbury, is the home rink of the association.

    In July, the Waterbury Record newspaper reported that the organization’s expense budget was $57,205 in 2012, according to the organization’s federal 990 tax form.

    According to Cold Hollow’s website, the mill is a top New England producer of fresh apple cider and one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.

    @Tagline:eric.blaisdell

    @timesargus.com

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