Former Hunger Free Vermont finance director sentenced to prison

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MONTPELIER >> The former finance director of a major Vermont nonprofit was sentenced Tuesday to more than a year in prison for embezzlement.

Sally Hartford Kirby was charged in federal court with embezzling $165,000 from Hunger Free Vermont.

Tuesday, Judge William K. Sessions III sentenced Kirby to serve 15 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. She also was ordered to pay $178,437 in restitution.

Hunger Free Vermont director Marissa Parisi first announced in December that a longtime employee had diverted significant amounts of money from the organization over the course of several years.

Kirby pleaded guilty to one count of forging securities with intent to deceive in May.

According to court papers, as financial manager of Hunger Free Vermont, Kirby used her position, which involved overseeing payroll, accounts payable, and other financial duties, to embezzle more than $165,000 from the organization between June 2009 and September 2015.

She was accused of writing checks to herself and forging the director's signature, then depositing them into a personal account.

Kirby must pay 10 percent of her future income to Hunger Free Vermont until the amount she stole is paid in full. She also is being held accountable for the expenses related to repairing the organization's accounting systems.

Parisi said Tuesday that she was grateful for support the organization received from the legal system through the process. However, she noted that Hunger Free Vermont is still not whole.

"There have been disappointments this year really as a direct result of the embezzlement," Parisi said.

One longtime donor, who has given five-figure donations to the organization every year since 1993, did not give money this year because of concerns over the organization's financial security, she said.

The lost funds have had an impact on staffing, too. They have not been able to hire people to fill three vacant positions, Parisi said. One of those roles will soon be filled by an Americorps Vista worker.

Meanwhile, current staff members have taken on extra work in order to ensure that Hunger Free Vermont programs were not impacted by the financial hit, she said.

"We've just been doing more work this year to make sure the community is covered," Parisi said.

Hunger Free Vermont has revamped the internal financial controls and is working with a new audit firm, Parisi said. The organization was audited annually through Kirby's tenure, but the firm did not detect the fraud.

"We really thought we were the gold standard before that to have something like this happen was just so shocking and so difficult," Parisi said.

Federal public defender Michael Desautels, who represented Kirby, said Tuesday that his client accepts her sentence.

"From the start of this case she has been extremely remorseful," Desautels said. "She looks forward to working hard to pay back Hunger Free Vermont for its loss and she wishes that organization all the best."


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