Bettysue Higgins, 53, of Gardiner, stands accused of embezzling $166,000 from the Maine Trial Lawyers Association during a four-year period.

According to Kennebec County Superior Court records, she claims to be indigent; her home at 41 Clinton St. is in foreclosure. The City of Gardiner is paying to fill an abandoned swimming pool on Higgins’ property.

But in YoVille, a virtual world created by the social gaming company Zynga, Bettysue Higgins owns multiple houses — even an apartment in a highrise — furnished with elaborate trappings. Her virtual closet is full of expensive costumes. And she has stacks of coins, virtual cash that can translate into some real-world money. Fellow YoVille gamers believe some of the money Higgins is accused of embezzling may have gone into their virtual world through the purchase of in-game cash that can be used to enhance gameplay.

Mike Cullen, president of the virtual YoVille Business Leaders Association, of which Higgins was a member, said Higgins told fellow players that she was a lawyer and assistant director of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association.

“We’re stunned she’s not an attorney,” he said.

Higgins worked as an administrative assistant at the association’s Augusta headquarters for eight years until Oct. 8, 2010, shortly after the organization’s officers discovered that money was missing.

“She misled us, and certainly she made us feel we could rely on her advice because of her status as an attorney,” Cullen said in March, shortly after reading about Higgins’ indictment on theft and forgery charges. “This is very upsetting.”

At that point, and for weeks afterward, Higgins was still logged onto the game, according to her online profile.

“She’s in YoVille more than she’s in real life,” Cullen said. “I removed her from my YoVille club, and I removed her as a friend on Facebook.”

In YoVille, Higgins’ virtual self most recently was a green-eyed blonde dressed in a black and white bee costume with antennae and yellow high heels. She went by the name Queen Mom Betty, and later Queenie.

In YoVille, the avatars work, play, socialize, buy homes, and earn coins by visiting the virtual homes of other players and by buying and selling rare items released for a short period of time and then removed from the game.

With almost 7 million monthly users, YoVille was a precursor to other popular online social games, such as Farmville, also created by Zynga.

Cullen said concerns he and other YoVille Business Leaders Association members had about Higgins grew after they read Higgins was convicted in 1991 for stealing money from a Gardiner school lunch program.

“My issue is that she stole from a school,” said Cullen, an elementary school principal who lives in Leonardo, N.J.

“The other issue is that for the past two or three months, she’s been attacking other people in the game, saying they’re not who they said they were. Meanwhile, she’s not living in the state she described.”

Higgins told other players she had helped her son buy a home and was planning an elaborate ceremony for her daughter’s upcoming wedding.

“None of us knew this was going on with Bettysue,” Cullen said. “My club has honest buyers and sellers.” YBLA club members are spread across much of the English-speaking world with some in the United States as well as Japan, Australia, Pakistan, Ireland, Great Britain.

Cullen contacted the Kennebec Journal after reading a story about Higgins and learning that Higgins’ real life contrasted sharply with what he had been told and after she refused to respond to his questions.

“I couldn’t understand how she could be so poor and so rich in the game,” Cullen said. “It made sense when I thought she was assistant director of the Maine Trial Lawyers Association. It doesn’t make sense now.

As of March 14, the Higgins’ account had more than 28 million YoVille coins, a very high coin total, according to Cullen. In YoVille, according to online sources, approximately 5,000 coins can be bought for $10.

“Most players would be nervous about having more than 10 million coins because Zynga might suspect that they were coin-sellers,” he said. Coin-selling is against the rules of the YoVille.

Cullen described YoVille as “a nice place where you can meet people from all over the world and not have to leave your house.” He said it holds particular appeal for those who don’t socialize much in the real world because they’re home with children or because they live in rural areas.

After a year or so of meeting in YoVille, participants generally start using phones (sometimes via Skype) to talk to one another in real time, and they share details about their real life and families, according to Cullen.

“I spoke to her on the phone every day for the past year and a half,” Cullen said. “Ms. Higgins was my right-hand person.” Higgins was one of eight officers among the YBLA population of 150.

Higgins, who pleaded not guilty on Feb. 23 to charges of theft by unauthorized taking and forgery, was scheduled back in court Tuesday, but her appearance was continued until the June 7.

The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Leann Robbin had requested the delay since she had to be in court in Bangor.

Higgins remains free on bail with the condition that she call her attorney, Ronald Bourget, weekly.

“We would not be in a position to disclose to the KJ Bettysue Higgins’ comments one way or the other with regard to gaming,” Bourget said on Monday. “This is the first I’ve become aware that there may be some online gaming involved. I’m am interested in investigating whether there’s a gambling or online gaming habit in this case because it has have been recognized in some courts as mitigating behavior, and it’s certainly something that I will look at.”

Robbin declined to comment on the case.

Another club officer, Victoria Smith of Claremont, N.C., is still smarting from what she says was a betrayal of a woman she had befriended three year ago.

Smith was home for about a year recovering from an injury and subsequent surgery.

“We were on Skype from morning until who knows when in my free time, on a daily basis,” Smith said on Sunday. “You think you really know somebody or trust them after that long. The stuff this woman has told me and the betrayal that happened after I found out what was going on was really hard for me.”

She said Higgins spent a lot of money in her virtual world.

For about a week after she learned of Higgins’ indictment, Smith said, she withdrew from the game and wouldn’t talk to anyone until Cullen contacted her and showed her photos of his home and school and even the school yearbook.

“It’s hard for me to log on this game and turn on my list,” Smith said. “I just don’t trust anybody.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

NUGGET: What is YoVille? In YoVille, avatars work, play, socialize, buy homes, and earn coins by visiting the virtual homes of other players and by buying and selling rare items released (and then removed) from the game.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.