Christine Stulsky, a former Southold Town court employee charged with stealing $230,000 in fines, bail money and other revenue from Southold Town court coffers pleaded guilty on Wednesday to grand larceny during a court conference in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead, according to District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Stulsky, 65, of New Suffolk, will be sentenced March 11 by State Supreme Court Justice John Collins, a new judge on the case, to six months in the county jail and five years’ probation with drug and alcohol conditions. Stulsky is required to pay the stolen funds back and will make her first payment of $50,000 this week, Spota said.
“Christine is remorseful and accepts responsibility for her actions,” Stulsky’s attorney Lane Bubka said, reading a written statement to SoutholdLOCAL prepared by his client. “She deeply regrets how this has affected the justices of the court, her co-workers, the town board, and all the residents of Southold Town. Christine is forever grateful for the help of her family and friends, who have supported her through this and made it possible for her to pay back every dollar taken.”
His client, Bubka said, has, in her life, “helped a tremendous amount of people. This is a case of circumstance that just got out of hand.”
Had she not taken the plea deal, Bubka said, and been indicted, Stulsky would have faced five to 15 years in prison. Instead, she will do four of the six months at a Suffolk County Correctional Facility. “That was part of the consideration, knowing she will be local and close to family,” he said.
Her family accompanied Stulksky to court on Wednesday.
“We are relieved that this issue has come to an end,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday. “We look forward to implementing new policies and procedures to ensure that acts like these don’t ever take place again.”
Stulsky, who’d worked for the town since 1980 resigned as a senior justice court clerk at the time of her arrest last March. Her duties included the collection and deposit of fines and bail funds and reconciling court bank accounts. The investigation found that the thefts began in January, 2009.
In March, Stulsky surrendered and was arraigned at Suffolk County criminal court, initially pleading not guilty to felony charges after an assistant district attorney said she stole “in excess of” $50,000 in bail and other fees from Town Hall to buy groceries, pet food, and cigarettes.
According to Spota, Stulsky, who was employed with Southold Town for 34 years before the town board accepted her resignation, was “suspected of stealing bail and other monies she was entrusted with.”
Prosecutor Melisa Bliss said Stulsky, who appeared in court in March dressed in a black sweater and leggings, was charged with one count of grand larceny in the second degree, a felony, one count of defrauding the government, a felony and one count of official misconduct, a misdemeanor.
Judge James Hudson set bail at $5,000 cash and $10,000 bond; Stulsky had a bail bondman at the arraignment.
In October, months after Stulsky was arrested and charged with grand larceny after she allegedly stole bail money and other fees from Southold Town Hall, defendants were still waiting to get that bail money back.
Stulsky worked for Justice Rudy Bruer for many years before she surrendered.
Southold Town Justice William Price said bail money that Stulsky “allegedly misappropriated cannot be returned to those people it belongs to.” An insurance claim is pending, he added, stating “The court is prohibited from using someone else’s bail money to pay someone making a demand.”
Some of those waiting for their bail money have been without the funds for months and even longer. “Yes, there are a number of people whose bail has not been returned, because the court does not have the money,” Price said. “They will get their bail money back when the insurance company gives the town the money from the claim.”
Southold Town Comptroller John Cushman did not immediately return a request for comment regarding the status of that insurance claim.
In April, a few days after Stulsky’s arrest, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said that although the town had seen “irregularities or discrepancies” in audits of the justice court reports in the past few years and requested “corrective action” by judges, at that point, “no such action has been taken.”
The town justice court was under intense scrutiny after longtime justice court clerk Stulsky surrendered and was arrested, and later arraigned at Suffolk County criminal court, pleading not guilty.
The supervisor was responding to a request by SoutholdLOCAL for information, after a letter was sent out by Art Tillman, chair of the Southold Town Democratic Committee, describing a visit by guest Brian Hughes, who spoke at a committee meeting Tuesday night about the responsibilities of a court justice.
According to the explanation given, the New York State Office of Court Administration does not audit the justice court receipts, as Russell has said in a past interview — the OCA only collects reports from each individual town justice, who oversees his own account.
That would mean, in the case of the only Justice Bruer, for whom Stulsky worked, that only he and Stulsky would have authority to collect bail fees and monitor that justices’ account, according to the explanation given.
“The town has an annual audit done of each department, including the justice court,” Russell said in an email Wednesday night. “The audit consists of the general operational procedures of that office. The report has noted deficiencies and discrepancies each year for the past few years. We have brought these to the attention of the judges and have requested corrective action. To date, no such action has taken place.”
He added, “The bail account is held in trust by the justice court. It is not part of the general allocations of Southold Town and not subject to our audit. The reports required by New York State’s OCA are detailed and lengthy. At any time the OCA sees irregularities or discrepancies, it has the full authority to request an audit be performed by the New York State Comptroller’s Office.”
Russell said the town board relies on its department heads to manage staff. “In this instance we rely on our judges, who are monitored by OCA. We cannot make an elected official take action. We can only request it. It should be noted again that any accounts monitored by OCA, such as fines, etc., or any account held in trust by the justice court, such as bail,etc., are not part of the general allocations of the town and not subject to the audit performed. All reports filed with OCA are copied and sent to the town board. The OCA has oversight of these reports, not Southold Town.”