Church lady sentenced to jail on weekends

WESTFIELD – A former pillar of the altar guild at St. John’s Lutheran Church will be spending her weekends in jail after she pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzling funds from the guild’s flower account.
City detective Todd Edwards reported in January, 2012, that he had been notified by the church’s pastor, Rev. Christopher A. Hazzard, that the flower store which provides altar flowers for services and special occasions at the church had notified him that the church’s account was about $4,000 in arrears.
Edwards investigated and found that Debra S. Labombard, 55, of 72 Pequot Road, Southampton, had been managing the altar flowers for the altar guild for more than 20 years and was the only person who had ever been authorized to make withdrawals from a bank account which had been opened in 1992 to pay for altar flowers.
His investigation revealed that, between December, 2007, and October, 2011, a total of $11,610 was withdrawn from the account but during that period only $4,220 was paid for flowers.
Edwards also found that Labombard had been convicted in 2004 of a scheme extending for more than a decade in which she had embezzled about $170,000 from her employer, Westfield-based firearms distributor Camfour Inc., and is required to make regular restitution payments to the court.
He reports that, on one occasion, $300 which Labombard withdrew from the flower account was used to partially fund a $400 bank check which was made payable to the Superior Court Probation Department.
Labombard was arrested and charged with larceny of property valued more than $250 by a single scheme.
At the time of her arraignment, Hazzard said that he has been pastor of the church for about four years and had not known of her previous conviction for embezzlement “until recently.”
He said that he was “saddened by the situation” and went on to say “I really do hope that Debbie gets the help she needs.”
Edwards said that Labombard pleaded guilty on Tuesday when the case was heard before Judge Tina Page in Hampden Superior Court.
He said that Jennifer N. Fitzgerald, the prosecuting assistant district attorney, asked Page for a two year sentence in the house of correction with one year to be served direct and the remainder suspended with probation.
Labombard’s defense attorney, Stephen Shea of Greenfield, asked that she be placed on probation and argued, Edwards reports, that a jail term would jeopardize her job with a social service agency and disrupt her family as she provides care for her elderly parents and grandchildren.
Page accepted neither recommendation but sentenced Labombard to a two-year term, with three months to be served direct and the balance suspended with probation for five years.
She also ordered that Labombard pay restitution of $4,000, which she has done.
Page ruled that Labombard could serve the direct portion of her sentence on weekends in order to allow her to retain her job and familial responsibilities.
“It’s going to be like eight months of weekend jail” for Labombard, Edwards said.
Fitzgerald explained later that Labombard will have to serve a total of 90 days but said that, because she will not be in the jail during the week, she will not be able to participate in the jail programs which would make her eligible for “good time” credit or an early release program.
Fitzgerald said that Labombard’s incarceration schedule will follow her employment schedule.
She will have to appear at the jail after work on Friday and will be released in time to go to work on Monday mornings.
She said that, in the event of a holiday long weekend, Labombard will stay in jail. She will be credited with a day of incarceration for each night she spends there.
Edwards said that her conviction for the church embezzlement may be a violation of probation imposed in the resolution of her previous embezzlement case.
A violation of probation hearing in that case had been on hold pending the resolution of the church case, he said, and will now be scheduled.

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