Woman pleads guilty to thefts from Mark Twain house in Conn.

Associated Press / August 6, 2011

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NEW HAVEN - A Connecticut woman pleaded guilty yesterday to embezzling more than $1 million from the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.

Donna Gregor, 58, of East Hartford, pleaded guilty in Bridgeport to wire fraud and filing a false tax return, federal prosecutors said.

“This case represents a breach of trust by a long-term employee of the Mark Twain House & Museum, a venerable Hartford landmark and institution of learning,’’ said US Attorney David Fein. “Individuals who steal from employers that rely so heavily on the contributions of individuals to operate are, in effect, stealing directly from those contributors. As a result, we will strongly advocate not only for an appropriate prison term, but also for restitution of the stolen funds.’’

The thefts occurred as the Twain House was in dire financial straits, trying to repay millions in bank loans used for expansion and struggling to meet its yearly budget.

In 2008, it cut two-thirds of its staff and made other reductions, but had barely enough money to pay three weeks’ worth of bills before publicity generated a spate of donations.

The gingerbread Gothic home was built in 1874 by the author and humorist.

Authorities said Gregor submitted false information to the museum’s payroll management vendor to get more pay than she was entitled to, used the museum’s check-writing system to write checks payable to herself, and forged the signatures of her supervisors on those checks.

Prosecutors said she used the proceeds of her theft for home improvements, theater tickets, dining out, mortgage payments, credit card payments, and car payments.

Gregor faces up to 23 years in prison, a fine of about $2 million, and restitution when sentenced Oct. 24. A message seeking comment left with her attorney was not immediately returned.