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Will suspected fraud spike Vt. power prices? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Will suspected fraud spike Vt. power prices?

Hardwick, Vermont - November 4, 2010

"I want my money back!" said Joe Wood, the chairman of the Hardwick Electric Department's commission.

The Hardwick Electric Department got a jolt last week when it discovered more than a million dollars of its money was missing. "We're sorry, this is just not right," Wood said.

The Hardwick Electric Commission says office employees alerted it something was wrong with the utility's books. Federal investigators with the U.S. Attorney's office are now looking into whether an embezzlement scheme stretching over ten years is to blame.

Reporter Jack Thurston: "Who's the real victim here? Will people's rates have to go up because of this?"

Joe Wood: "Maybe not, I don't know. This was going on for a long period of time and we're okay as a company. In the long term, we'll probably be okay because it won't bleed any more, but in the short term, we have a problem to fix."

Wood adds that power rates may go up in the future, as they regularly do, but not because of this and only this.

WCAX News has learned office manager Joyce Bellavance has been relieved of her duties, but prosecutors have not filed any charges against her. Hardwick Electric believes no other workers knew about the missing money.

The company has fraud insurance that will cover some, but not all, the million-plus dollars it lost. The funds could have been used for upgrades, repairs, or investments in the power system.

"We're going to work through the finances and get through just fine," Wood said.

The utility promises its 4,200 customers will not see any changes in service. It's already improved its bookkeeping and says it's doing all it can to get back the cash. In the meantime, the commission wonders how routine audits, including checks by regulators, raised no red flags. "She just did a good job, I'm sad to say," Wood said.

Again, Joyce Bellavance has not been charged with doing anything wrong. The U.S. Attorney does not comment on active investigations. Hardwick Electric says it's cooperating fully.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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