AUGUSTA — The Gardiner woman who pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $166,000 from the Maine Trial Lawyers Association should be sent to jail, a state prosecutor recommends.

Bettysue Higgins, 54, who worked for the association during the embezzlement, is scheduled to be sentenced today following a 1 p.m. hearing at Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn.

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In December, she pleaded guilty in Kennebec County Superior Court to theft by unauthorized taking or transfer and forgery just before a jury trial on those charges was set to begin.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin writes in a memo that she’ll be recommending Higgins be sentenced to six years, with all but five years suspended, plus three years of probation.

Robbin also wrote that Higgins should pay $166,700 in restitution, although it’s unlikely the Maine Trial Lawyers Association will see all of the money. Higgins’ home is in foreclosure.

Meanwhile, her attorney, Ronald Bourget, said he’ll be recommending Higgins be sentenced between 12 to 20 months, adding that “it’s clear that there will be some jail time” under the sentence.

“Betty has never served any jail and her prospects for rehabilitation and probation are high,” Bourget said. “I feel that our recommendation is just.”

Higgins has admitted to forging the name of Maine Trial Lawyers Association’s executive director, Steven Prince, between May 22, 2006, and Sept. 9, 2010, on 220 checks made payable to herself or to cash, and doctoring the organization’s books to conceal the theft. When Prince learned a check he had written for $5,500 bounced, he discovered the scheme.

In 1991, Higgins was convicted of theft by misapplication of property and theft by deception for taking more than $2,000 from the Gardiner area school district. Then, she kept lunch money she was supposed to deposit. Higgins received a suspended sentence and spent no time in jail for that felony offense.

Robbin said in her memo that this prior incident has left the association unable to fill Higgins’ administrative assistant position, leaving Prince burdened with the position’s duties.

“Typically with white collar offenders, the stigma of conviction is sufficient to deter them from violating the law again,” Robbin wrote. “In contrast, 15 years after her suspended sentence and 12 years after her probation ended, she embarked on a calculated scheme to embezzle from her employer that went undetected for four years.”

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632

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