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Bookkeeper stole more than $1 million from small businesses across Massachusetts, federal prosecutors say

Patricia Lindau has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion.

Patricia Lindau, whose firm provided payroll and payroll tax services to small businesses from Maine to Cape Cod, has agreed to plead guilty to charges she pocketed money set aside by her clients for payroll taxes, according to documents filed Monday in US District Court.

Lindau, 65, of Newburgh, Maine, will plead guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend she serve nearly five years in prison. She has also agreed to pay restitution of $1,393,430 including nearly $1.1 million in taxes she didn’t pay for her clients.

She is also required to pay $272,138 to the IRS.

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Prosecutors said that between 2017 and the spring of 2020, Lindau failed to pay payroll taxes she withdrew from her clients’ accounts, instead transferring the money to her company’s checking account.

But each week, she sent her clients a report “falsely indicating that the funds had been paid,” prosecutors said.

Last July several victims — who included 18 small restaurant and two bakery owners, an electrician, and a newsstand operator — told The Boston Globe they were shocked when they discovered that Lindau, who ran Northeast Abacus Inc., had not been making tax payments on their behalf.

They described her as a nice woman who would chat with them over the phone for hours, asking about their lives and their children. She started the business in Newburyport, but later moved to Maine.

They received an e-mail in May telling them that she could no longer provide payroll services “due to unforeseen circumstances.” There was no explanation and their calls and e-mails went unanswered.

When she disappeared — her website gone, her phone disconnected — some feared she had fallen victim to the coronavirus.

But when the business owners started receiving overdue tax notices, they realized they had been swindled.

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Some questioned Lindau about the delinquency letters but she always assured them they were mistakes and she provided “documentation” to prove it.

Eventually some of the them, including George Lambos, the owner of Fresco’s Roast Beef & Seafood in Malden, sued Lindau. He sought to recover $130,000 in taxes he owed the state and federal government. But after Lindau and her husband filed for bankruptcy in June, his suit was dismissed.

Lindau’s attorney, Carmine Lepore, Monday said his client agreed to plead guilty because she is “extremely remorseful and does not desire to drag the matter out further.”

Asked about the potential prison term Lindau is facing, Lepore suggested he may ask the judge for a lighter sentence. The prosecutor recommends the sentence but the judge can impose any sentence he or she feels is appropriate.

“The plea agreement has been crafted after months of negotiations with the United States attorney’s office, a review of the evidence, and the application of the sentencing guidelines,” Lepore said. “Both sides agree on the offense level based on the facts, however we are free to seek a sentence beneath the guidelines.”

Some of Lindau’s former clients said they are pleased she is facing prison time, but wonder if they will ever see any of the money she stole from them. They have been forced to pay the IRS the taxes that Lindau failed to pay. Some said they had hoped Lindau’s husband would also be charged.

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“I’m very happy to hear that she’s going to jail,” Lambos said. “She committed crimes and should pay for it. It’s a relief to finally get some sort of closure. Do I hope I’ll get the money back? Absolutely. I’m going to keep the faith and take whatever I can get.”

John Damroth, who owns Planet Records in Cambridge, and had done business with Lindau for more than 30 years, said he hopes he has a chance to describe in court the toll the experience has taken on him.

“If there were a hearing where I could say my piece, I would push for it,” said Damroth, who lost $25,000.

“It would be hard for her to avoid getting nailed. But what about my money?” he asked. “I don’t consider myself ultrasensitive, but this really wore on me. I guess it’s one of those life lessons.”

In all, prosecutors said, Lindau failed to turn over more than $2 million in taxes, ultimately causing a loss to her clients of more than $1.1 million.




Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.