Employee admits embezzling $1 million from Mark Twain House

BRIDGEPORT, Conn Fri Aug 5, 2011 6:55pm EDT

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn (Reuters) - An employee of the historic home of Mark Twain, who once wrote "the lack of money is the root of all evil," pleaded guilty on Friday to embezzling more than $1 million from the tourist attraction.

Donna Gregor, 58, admitted in District Court that she fudged the books to steal from the financially troubled Mark Twain House and Museum in West Hartford, authorities said.

A long-time employee of the famed American writer's historic home, Gregor pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and filing a false tax return, according to Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department.

Twain, born Samuel Clemens, had money troubles himself while living in the home from 1874 to 1891, during which time he wrote such American classics as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn".

Financial problems forced Twain to leave the Victorian Gothic home for Europe, according to the website www.marktwainhouse.org.

According to court documents, Gregor submitted false information over the Internet to the Mark Twain House payroll vendor between 2002 and 2010. The misinformation allowed additional pay to which she was not entitled to be deposited into her bank account, classified as payroll advances.

She then adjusted the ledgers to cover up the advances by reclassifying the amounts as utilities, maintenance and similar items. She also falsified the Mark Twain House's bank statements to hide the advances, authorities said.

Gregor used the Mark Twain House's check-writing system to write checks payable to herself and forged her supervisor's signatures on those checks, authorities said.

She used the stolen money to pay for home improvements, theater tickets, dining out, mortgage and credit card bills.

Gregor also failed to pay federal taxes and owes the Internal Revenue Service $322,970 on the embezzled funds, officials said.

She faces a maximum prison term of 23 years and a fine of up to $2 million when she is sentenced on October 24. She will be ordered to repay the Mark Twain House and the insurance company that has paid out $500,000 on the loss.

The theft was discovered by a bank employee who questioned the signatures on the checks, according to a board member of the historic home.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)

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