WATERVILLE — Lisa Carbonneau said she knows what she did was wrong, but she did it anyway.
Carbonneau, 36, of Livermore Falls, was arrested Dec. 13 at Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, where she had gone to pick up a box of children’s toys and clothing. She had applied to the organization’s annual charitable Christmas program for the assistance package, saying she desperately needed the gifts for her four children because her husband had died, her house burned in a fire and she had no money.
But a children’s home official checked her out on Facebook and learned otherwise. She was not needy, her house fire was in 2010 and her husband was alive. In fact, her husband accompanied her to the Children’s Home on Silver Street that day.
When the couple arrived, a police officer greeted Carbonneau with a pair of handcuffs.
After a story appeared in the Morning Sentinel about her arrest on Dec. 16, Carbonneau got dozens of Facebook messages from people criticizing her. A local radio station ran a piece about the Grinch who stole Christmas, inserting her name in place of the Grinch, she said.
“I was embarrassed,” Carbonneau said this week. “I was shocked by it all. I was just trying to help someone.”
She said she was only trying to get presents from the home for a neighbor who has four boys but no money to buy them Christmas presents.
“She kept coming to me, crying,” Carbonneau said. “I shouldn’t have lied on the application, but I don’t know how they (police) got me for theft when I never left with a toy.”
Following her arrest she was taken to Kennebec County jail in Augusta, where she spent six days. Carbonneau faces up to five years in prison. She made her initial appearance Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Carbonneau, who doesn’t work, has a history of stealing and getting into trouble, and she and her husband acknowledge that she has difficulty suppressing those instincts.
“But I’ve never stole anything from a kid,” she said. “I’ve helped a kid get a toy. I think what they (police) were doing was trying to make it look like I was trying to steal toys.”
Charles Rumsey, Waterville’s deputy police chief, said that Carbonneau did not tell police the story about trying to get presents for a needy neighbor and her children.
“She never said that,” Rumsey said. “This was not a story that we heard and it doesn’t really make sense because if a family had a need and contacted the Maine Children’s Home, they probably would have helped her out.”
Carbonneau admitted she did not tell police about her neighbor, even though she wrote the names of the neighbor’s four boys on the application. She said she was not trying to get presents for her own daughters, who are ages 21, 19, 17 and 11.
Her husband, Michael, said he had no idea when he accompanied her to the children’s home that she had lied on the application for assistance, or that she wrote that he was dead.
He said his wife is more of a Robin Hood than a Grinch, and typically steals around Christmastime to help others. She once wrote bad checks so a relative could get oil for his furnace, he said, and spent three months in jail for it.
The couple has enough money to pay for items she steals, yet she continues to do it, he said.
“It’s like a drug to her, the stealing — the part of helping somebody else.”
Carbonneau said she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and attention deficit disorder, is in counseling, and is trying to stop her inappropriate behavior and become a better person.
She speaks freely about her problems with stealing, writing bad checks and violating bail conditions, as well as her addiction to an anti-anxiety drug prescribed by her doctor. She says she no longer takes the medication because it puts her in a fog and makes her more apt to steal.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she could not comment on how such a drug might affect someone, but she has never heard of somebody saying anti-anxiety medicine cause caused him to steal.
“That would be a novel defense,” Maloney said. “It clearly would require a doctor’s opinion. I don’t have a medical degree so I can’t begin to say how an anti-anxiety medicine (affects a person).”
Carbonneau said when she steals items from stores, it is typically for other people, not for herself, as she has the money to pay for the items.
“I took a theft charge when my middle daughter was 7. She wanted press-on nails and I took them because I didn’t want to pay $4 for them, but I had the money. I thought, nobody’s watching me, I can get away with it. It’s just being stubborn.
“My last charge, I was at a store in Jay. I stole a whoopie pie that was only $1.97. I had $2 to pay for it, but I didn’t think it was a fair price. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“I’m really doing a lot of deep therapy, with counseling and stuff,” she said.
Carbonneau said her past influenced how she behaves today.
“My mother was there but not there. She was in and out of prison. When she went to prison, I went to stay with relatives.”
Carbonneau started having kids at 14, she said, and married at 21. She has been married 15 years.
Charged with theft by deception, a class C felony, and two counts of violation of conditions of release, both misdemeanors, Carbonneau on Tuesday had not yet been appointed an attorney by the court, Maloney said. She has not been indicted by a grand jury.
She was originally arrested on a warrant and charged with theft by deception and violation of conditions of release for theft cases in the Lewiston and Portland areas, according to Rumsey.
Carbonneau has a long criminal record dating back to 1997 that includes convictions for theft, burglary, negotiating a worthless instrument, drug theft, misuse of credit identification, disorderly conduct, failing to report to jail and theft by deception.
Carbonneau said she hopes to get into some type of treatment program instead of going to jail again.
She sometimes doesn’t know why she acts as she does, knowing it is wrong, she said. She said she has to learn how to say no to people who ask her for help.