AUGUSTA — An Augusta woman was ordered to spend four months in jail and repay nearly $30,000 after pleading guilty Wednesday to welfare fraud.

Laurie Chabot, 54, was sentenced to serve the first four months of a two-year sentence, followed by two years of probation, for bilking the state out of more than $27,000 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and MaineCare funds over a six-year period.

Justice Donald Marden imposed the sentence Wednesday at the Capital Judicial Center after Chabot pleaded guilty to theft by deception and four counts of unsworn falsification. Marden ordered Chabot to pay $50 per month until the stolen money is repaid, which would take 45 years.

“This is a serious offense,” said the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell, who argued for a seven-month jail sentence. “Such intentional, prolonged behavior should be discouraged.”

Mitchell said Chabot stole the money over a six-year period, between January 2008 and July 2014, by falsifying applications for state assistance. Chabot falsely gave the impression that her husband, who earned about $30,000 in a permanent, full-time job, was not living with her or not contributing to the household. Chabot said her only income was from child support and her job at Kmart, Mitchell said.

The deception allowed Chabot to continue receiving food stamps and Mainecare benefits even while her husband had his paycheck deposited directly into bank accounts to which Chabot had access. Mitchell said the state’s investigation, which was launched after an anonymous complaint, not only led to the bank records, but uncovered a marriage certificate and testimony from neighbors who said Chabot’s husband’s vehicle was parked at the home regularly. Mitchell said Chabot continued to deny she was married when investigators confronted her.

“She had control over his $30,000 salary,” Mitchell said.

But Chabot’s attorney, Randy Robinson, who argued for a maximum three months in jail, said Chabot’s husband did not support his wife. Robinson noted that her husband was not in the courtroom on Wednesday.

“This is not a violent person,” Robinson said. “This is a person with a lousy marriage who made some mistakes. Give here whatever time you think is appropriate, but keep in mind this is not Al Capone here.”

Chabot’s daughter, Desiree Dombrowski, said Chabot used the money to support her grown children and her young grandchildren.

“She did it for her kids, like any good mom would do,” Dombrowski said, sobbing. “I’m about to have a baby, and I need my mom there with me.”

Chabot was married in theory, Dombrowski said, but in practice was on her own.

“She never had a husband,” Dombrowski said. “She only had us.”

Robinson said Chabot has no criminal record. Unlike crimes in which someone is hurt physically and might suffer lasting ramifications, Chabot can make the state whole.

“The money can be repaid,” he said. “It will take my client quite a while, but she plans to repay it fully. Whatever harm has been done can be made right.”

But Mitchell said Chabot’s actions strike at the heart of public trust at a time when there is growing distrust of those who receive state assistance and calls to end such programs.

“Throughout the state there’s a lot of anger toward the abuse and misuse of public assistance programs,” Mitchell said. “The defendant’s conduct actually does affect other people.”

Mitchell said Chabot’s actions were not impetuous or driven by need or fear.

“Six years is a long period of time,” she said. “When you engage in a theft for six years and complete over 10 written documents, you’re not just making some mistakes.”

Robinson, however, disputed Mitchell’s claim that Chabot had control over her husband’s finances. Robinson bolstered his claim by reminding the court that he was a court-appointed attorney, a process that requires the defendant to meet specific thresholds of financial need.

“She did what she had to do,” Robinson said.

Marden bristled at that notion, however.

“That’s an interesting comment, Mr. Robinson,” Marden said. “You’re saying she committed a crime because she had to.”

Marden said Chabot committed “a serious crime” and did so knowingly.

“She wasn’t Robin Hood,” Marden said. “Ms. Chabot, I think it’s unfortunate, but it all comes to this: You know you done wrong.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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