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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ex-WMECO credit union chief pleads guilty to theft in Massachusetts

The former director of the Western Mass. Electric Co. Credit Union pleaded guilty Tuesday to bilking $225,000 from his employer by falsifying expense reports for several years before his retirement in 2006.

Appearing in a wheelchair in U.S. District Court, Robert Koss, of Ludlow, pleaded guilty to embezzlement and filing a false tax return while running the Springfield-based credit union for the utility's employees, family members and retirees. Under federal guidelines, Koss could receive up to 33 months in prison at his sentencing, set for Jan. 21. Koss' scheme began in the late 1990s and continued through 2006, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Welch II, who said the credit union director collected about $225,000 from invented or inflated expense reimbursements. He also falsified his income on a 2005 tax return, reporting between $20,000 and $30,000 less than he earned, Welch said. As part of a plea deal, Koss agreed to pay about $130,000 in restitution to the credit union; he already paid $80,000 to the union's insurer in a civil suit, and has placed $50,000 in escrow for further repayments, Welch said. Wendy J. Tariff, the credit union's CEO, said accounts at the federally guaranteed institution were never threatened by the scheme. "This is the end of a very sad chapter in our credit union's 88-year history. The staff worked hard throughout the past three-plus years to document and substantiate these losses," she said. "This news will certainly come as a shock to our members and the Massachusetts credit union community," Tarriff said, adding the "credit union remains a safe and sound institution." The deal allowed Koss, who ran the credit union for 30 years, to plead guilty Tuesday without being indicted by a grand jury or arraigned on the charges. Before pleading guilty, Koss was reminded by Judge Michael A. Ponsor that he faced a possible two-year prison sentence. When the judge quizzed the defendant about his health, Koss responded that he needed the wheelchair "because I can't walk long distances." Springfield defense lawyer Jack F. St. Clair said his client had briefed him on physical liabilities before agreeing to the plea.

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