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The Boston Globe

North

Saugus

Library digs out following $1 million theft

One week after Linda E. Duffy, a former library worker, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for stealing almost $1 million in library funds, the Saugus Public Library is turning the page on a painful chapter.

Circulation is rising, with more residents borrowing books and videos, browsing magazines and newspapers, and signing up for special programs, such as lessons on e-books and a puppet show.

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“We’re busy, busy, busy,” said Diane Wallace, the library director since 2011, when the theft came to light. “We have people coming in here all day. It’s unbelievable.”

A new friends group is starting to raise funds, recruit members, and restore public confidence in a town asset. New financial controls track every penny that comes into the library.

“Some people are afraid to become involved,” said Randy-Sue Abber, chairwoman of the friends’ membership committee. “I just want them to know that things are going better, that the money is going to be handled better.”

Duffy, 66, was sentenced on Jan. 10 to five years in federal prison, plus three years of supervised probation, by Judge Douglas P. Woodlock in US District Court in Boston.

Woodlock also ordered Duffy to repay $965,742 she admitted to stealing over a seven-year period, from 2004 to 2011, while she was employed as an aide to three library directors in succession.

At the time, the library was facing financial peril. The town’s fiscal crisis forced the library to close temporarily. It later reopened, but with minimal staffing and operating hours.

Duffy diverted the money — most of it charitable gifts, donations, and overdue book fines — from a library account to her personal bank account. She also stole from a second library account by forging a library official’s signature on 90 checks, prosecutors said.

Duffy used the money to pay the mortgage, and fund repairs, to her Main Street home. She also used the money to make car payments and buy jewelry, prosecutors said.

Frederick J. Riley, Duffy’s court-appointed lawyer, said his client probably won’t be able to repay the money to victims. “She doesn’t have any money,” Riley said. “We submitted a very lengthy financial statement to the court.”

Riley said prosecutors filed a claim on Duffy’s Saugus home, but later withdrew it.

“It’s too heavily mortgaged,” he said. “There isn’t enough [equity] to make restitution. It’s Linda’s obligation to repay, not her family’s.”

A spokesman for US District Court in Boston did not return a call seeking comment.

Riley had asked the judge to sentence Duffy to home confinement, in part because she was diagnosed with a mental illness by a doctor at McLean Hospital in Belmont.

“She’s a psychopath,” Riley said. “People use that term as a colloquialism, but it’s a disease. . . . We didn’t feel she is fit to be in a prison environment.”

Some victims, and library supporters, do not believe Duffy’s sentence is adequate.

“For those of us who were her victims, I don’t think she got enough time,” said Abber, a library volunteer, who had made memorial contributions in the name of Henry Merrifield, another library supporter who died in 2011. “She was doing it for eight years, so should have gotten eight years. I feel really bad, for people who made contributions, in [Merrifield’s] name, at my request. They were victims, too.”

Jean Bartolo, who was chairwoman of the Board of Library Trustees during much of Duffy’s tenure, also was disappointed with Duffy’s sentence.

“In my heart of hearts, I don’t think it’s long enough,” Bartolo said. “My library board trusted her. People gave generously to our library, and none of it saw the light of day.”

The GE Foundation, a charitable arm of General Electric Co., lost over $400,000 from a matching gifts program for employees and retirees. But the company, whose aircraft engine plant in Lynn is one of the region’s largest private employers, will continue its support.

“While the Saugus Public Library theft case was very unfortunate and resulted in lost funds, it does not detract from the philanthropic drive of our employees and the [foundation’s] overall mission,” Rich Gorham, a GE spokesman, said in a statement to the Globe.

Still, the library faces challenges. On Feb. 7, the state Board of Library Commissioners will consider the library’s request for a waiver from the state’s minimum funding requirements.

The library’s funding was cut 27 percent in this year’s town budget, from $507,000 last year, to $370,000 this year, Wallace said. “We are below the minimum funding requirement for our town, so we have to seek a waiver to get any state aid,” she said.

The cuts forced the library to lay off staff. There are now just 10 employees. The library is only able to open 47 hours per week, the minimum required by the state.

“We’re pretty much just barely covering things,” Wallace said. “It’s been a long, hard year. But I think we are proving ourselves. I have the best staff. They could whine and complain, but they don’t. “

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@Globe­KMcCabe.
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