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Desperate Gamblers Victims of Online Gambling Business

Desperate Gamblers Victims of Online Gambling Business

An insidious new kind of crime is taking hold, radiating out across southern New England from the two Indian casinos in eastern Connecticut.

It is embezzlement committed by desperate gamblers, usually compulsive gamblers, who work in positions of trust. Their victims range from businesses to government agencies to families that are swindled out of their savings.

The online gamblers steal to feed their addictions and then to recoup their losses, often devising sophisticated schemes to cover their thefts while deceiving themselves that they will repay the money. But they keep losing and stealing and losing and stealing until, finally, they get caught.

For most of them, gambling is a way to escape their problems in their lives

“People have different rationalizations which permit them to take the money, but it’s all to feed the desire to escape,” . “It’s a circular thing. So one of the things they are escaping from is the guilt that they feel about having taken the money. It’s a crazy thing.”

A sampling of criminal cases over the past two years shows that the amounts of money can be staggering and that an increasing number of the gamblers are women. In all these cases, the money was used to gamble at gambling and at fraudolent online casinos

In May 1998, Edward Hutner of Rocky Hill was sentenced to prison for embezzling $1 million from his employer, a CIGNA subsidiary, by creating fictitious pension plan participants and moving the money through brokerage firms.

A few days later, Norwalk investment adviser Richard Scarso was sent to prison for stealing $1.4 million from 13 families.

In the fall of 1998, two Massachusetts men, Thomas Aldred and Neil J. Coiley, were sentenced to prison and home confinement for the theft of nearly $2 million from the company where Aldred worked by creating fictitious shipments of supplies.

Last year, April Corlies was accused of embezzling more than $300,000 from the Cross Sound Ferry Co. in New London by manipulating records of tickets sales. She is awaiting trial.

Early this year, Lynne M. Frank, who handled bar receipts at The Bushnell, was charged with embezzling $91,000.

A few weeks ago, James Coughlin of Waterford avoided prison in his home improvement scam by agreeing to partially repay victims, who lost more than $200,000.

Two weeks ago, Helen “Pearl” Byrd, a state department of Social Services worker, was accused of embezzling almost $200,000 through fraudulent welfare payments.

This week state police are working on an investigation expected to lead to the arrest of Yvonne Bell, who was Ledyard’s tax collector until she resigned in June after money was discovered missing. An audit completed recently put the figure at more than $300,000. Two years ago former Sprague Tax Collector Mary L. Thomas repaid $105,000 she had stolen from her town and was sentenced to probation.

Many other gambling-related cases are never reported to the police. The company or organization involved usually wants to avoid embarrassing publicity for itself or for the employee, or both.

Rosemary has been involved in some of those situations through her position as the director of the state-funded Bettor Choice compulsive gambling treatment program in eastern Connecticut.

Over the past three years, she said, she has negotiated five private deals with companies to keep embezzling gamblers from being arrested.

“When you’re crashing, or they’re hitting bottom, they come into treatment,” she said. “When they know it is inevitable that they’re going to get caught, then they come to me, and then accompany them to turn themselves in.”

They often avoid prosecution by agreeing to repay the money they stole.

“If people honor their commitment and their plan,” she said, “ usually nothing more happens.

In addition to serving as a private intermediary, Poole said she has testified in court on behalf of 14 recovering gamblers who were prosecuted for stealing in the past three years.

The demand for treatment of compulsive gamblers has climbed steadily since Foxwoods opened in 1992, followed in 1996 by Mohegan Sun. In 1993, state-funded treatment programs handled 50 clients; last year, the figure was 425.

“We think the number would be much greater if we spent more time and money advertising,” said Armentano, who coordinates the sate programs for the department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

He said many gamblers with good jobs and decent insurance plans seek private treatment from psychiatrists and psychologists.

Susan Legassee is familiar with some of them, and she said more funding is needed for gambling treatment to meet the increasing demand. She works for a human services consulting firm, ETP Inc. of East Hartford, as an account manager overseeing employee assistance programs for more than a dozen companies.

In that position she also has encountered gambling-related embezzlement cases that were not reported to the police.

“You don’t hear a lot about it because the companies don’t want to publicize it.” She said. “They handle it internally if they possibly can.”

In one recent case, she said, a woman put about $10,000 in cash advances on a company credit card to get money to gamble, but she was a valued employee that the company did not want to lose.

The woman went into a treatment program and agreed to pay back the money by having the money deducted from her paychecks.

“Gambling is something is something where we have seen an increase,” Legassee said. “I’ve been doing [employee assistance] work for 18 years in Connecticut, and in all that time it is interesting that gambling coming up as a problem has been in the last five or six or seven years.”

Gamblers rarely admit initially to having a problem.

“They call because their marriage is falling apart or they have financial problems,” Legassee said. “And then we send them to see a counselor who starts to pick at the gambling piece. And often it’s like, ‘Well gambling is not my problem. My problem is that my wife won’t get off my back.’ But the root of it is related to gambling.”

She said the powerful lure of gambling became evident to her when she found out that some people go to the casinos wearing adult diapers so they won’t have to leave a hot slot machine or table game.

One part of her job is making presentations to employees of the companies she has as clients. The subjects vary, and one covers gambling:

“I used to end my presentations by saying, ‘I can’t diagnose whether you have a problem with gambling, but I’ll tell you this: If you are ever going to the casino and you have on an adult diaper, do me a favor, call the [employee assistance program] before you leave because if you’re wearing adult diapers to the casino, you’ve got a problem.

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