It's obvious that Nancy Reich should have received a much more serious sentence than she did for embezzling $100,000 in public grant funds from the nonprofit organization she ran. ComLinks is a major North Country charity that feeds the hungry, shelters the poor and used to comfort abused women until bad management by Ms. Reich and others - so bad it prompted a staff uprising - caused the group to drop that service and leave domestic abuse victims out of luck.
She was accused of using the ComLinks credit card lavishly to buy herself golf club memberships, wine, massages, vacations, home appliances, flowers and political donations. Then, to cover her tracks, she allegedly falsified documents.
Ms. Reich stole from the poor to give richly to herself, and then she lied about it.
Yet her only punishment is to pay a paltry $1,500 restitution. It probably cost taxpayers more than that just for state and local investigators and prosecutors to enforce the law against her.
Even a misdemeanor in this case would have resulted in jail time, but the way they cut this deal, a felony doesn't.
Plus, the judge and the lawyers made it so if she avoids crime for three more years, she'll not only avoid jail - the charge will be dismissed, the crime wiped from her record entirely.
Wouldn't every petty thief like to get that kind of deal? They don't. Jails and prisons are full of people who broke the law much less egregiously than Ms. Reich. She was no petty thief, according to the evidence against her; she went big.
Moreover, she stole from the taxpayers. ComLinks relies on public grants to operate. That's why this case was broken open by the state comptroller's office, which discovered the theft in an audit. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has sworn zero tolerance for embezzlement of public funds and constant vigilence to maintain accountability, yet in this case, a judge and a weak prosecutor essentially said, "So what?" to that essential cause. A spokesman said the comptroller's office was satisfied that the fraud had ended, but left it at that.
Yes, it is a bright spot in all this that Comlinks now has a new board that is working hard to help needy people and also make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
But we're left to imagine the offense felt by the state investigator who went to so much work and trouble to expose theft and fraud, and then watched the justice system cut the criminal a sweetheart deal.
What a terrible message it sends to the next person on the verge of embezzling. It might make one think our justice system is two-tiered, coming down hard on the little guy and going easy on the well connected elite.
Saratoga County Assistant District Attorney Dick Wendling, who represented the people in this case (due to conflicts of interest with the Franklin County District Attorney's Office), deserves special criticism. He said "it was somewhat inconsequential" whether Reich ended up with one or six felony charges as long as she got a felony, even if it's dismissed in three years. He also said he was satisfied with the sentence.
That's a pretty poor way to stand up for law and order.
Beyond that, Reich's attitude on the day of her big day in court was terrible. We didn't have a reporter there in Malone that day, but the Press-Republican did and spoke with her. Amid tears, she insisted she helped people over her 20 years at ComLinks and "did good work. People forget that. I did a good job."
No, she didn't.
Now she's reportedly moved to Montana because she can't live here anymore. At least that's one negative consequence - the age-old punishment of banishment is still useful now and again - but what if she tries this kind of thing there, amid people who don't know her history? That's where we say, thank goodness for the Internet. Our online newspaper articles don't go away, so at least when someone does a search for "Nancy Reich," they'll find the truth.