• Cheese institute embezzler gets 13 months
     | June 17,2014

    RUTLAND — A former University of Vermont employee was sentenced Monday to 13 months in jail and ordered to pay back $200,000 she was convicted of embezzling.

    Jody Farnham, 55, of Burlington, pleaded guilty to stealing from the college’s Institute for Artisan Cheese between 2006 and 2012 when she served as its program support specialist.

    During that time, she stole $200,000 in a wide variety of ways that federal Judge Christina Reiss said included altering tuition checks and fraudulently billing for travel and other expenses.

    On Monday in U.S. District Court in Rutland, Farnham began paying those expenses back with a $350 check that her attorney Robert Hemley said would be the first of many.

    “She’s committed to regular payments going forward,” Hemley said.

    During an address to the court, Farnham briefly broke down in tears while acknowledging the money she stole that she said was taken to provide for a lifestyle her daughters had come to expect before she divorced her husband.

    “I felt threatened and vulnerable after the divorce. I should have asked for help but didn’t out of pride,” she said. “When the opportunity presented itself, I chose to do the wrong thing.”

    That Farnham stole the money to provide for her family was one of the mitigating factors Reiss said she considered while deciding on a sentence.

    But the judge said there were a number of aggravating circumstances that she took into account.

    One of the main concerns Reiss said she had was that Farnham had taken money for her own use while employed by the Burlington School District. She was fired and ordered to pay back that money but was not charged criminally, the judge said.

    “It’s sad that you didn’t take note and say, ‘Whatever I do, I’m not doing that again,’” Reiss said.

    The judge said Farnham knew she was stealing from a financially fragile institution when she took the cheese institute’s money.

    “You knew you were hurting that program and, in fact, it did not survive,” Reiss said of the operation, which closed in 2013.

    Reiss said she was concerned that Farnham, whose thefts were discovered in 2012, didn’t begin making restitution payments until Monday.

    “Even a nominal monthly payment shows that a person wants to make this right,” she said.

    Hemley asked the judge to sentence Farnham to three months in jail and three months of home confinement, but Reiss said that would be too lenient. The judge also said a potential 18-month sentence identified as the maximum sought by the prosecution was too high.

    Farnham was ordered to turn herself in to begin serving her sentence July 29.

    brent.curtis @rutlandherald.com

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