Ex-Plymouth finance director charged with embezzling $800K

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A former finance director for the town of Plymouth was charged Tuesday with embezzling more than $800,000.

David Bertnagel, 41, was arrested Tuesday morning and presented in U.S. District Court in Hartford on a charge of theft from a local government receiving federal funds. That carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

According to the criminal complaint from the U.S. attorney’s office, Bertnagel issued 207 checks to himself from October 2011 to October 2014 totaling $808,030.

Bertnagel, who worked for the finance department for more than six years, is accused of using more than $100,000 of the stolen money to buy coins, stamps, highly sought-after Hummel porcelain figurines and other collectibles. Prosecutors said he also used embezzled funds for home improvement projects, mortgage payments and credit card bills.

Bertnagel, who lost his job in November, was released after posting a $250,000 bond. A phone call to his Thomaston home seeking comment Tuesday went unanswered.

According to the complaint, Bertnagel, who also at one time worked for the city of Bristol, told the FBI that he had been authorized by former Mayor Vincent Festa and former mayoral assistant Theodore Scheidel to make early draws on his pension.

In November, his lawyers provided a photo copy of the paperwork to the town, which turned it over to the FBI.

There is no record of such a contract in City Hall, according to the complaint.

Festa told authorities he didn’t recall any such agreement and doesn’t believe it occurred. Scheidel is deceased.

According to the complaint, the FBI discovered an electronic copy of Festa’s signature on Bertnagel’s computer which appears to be “very similar” to the one on the purported contract.

The town of just under 12,000 residents, located about 25 miles west of Hartford, has an annual budget of about $27 million.

Mayor David Merchant said the town will use the information gathered in the case as it conducts a civil forensic investigation.

“Our goal is to get to the bottom of this matter and to recover as much as we possibly can,” Merchant said in an email Tuesday afternoon.

He said the town has made “policy and procedural changes” to ensure that such a theft can never happen again. He did not provide details.