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Family ‘shattered’ after goddaughter accused of stealing from RI law firm

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Warwick woman has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges that she slowly bilked three-quarters of a million dollars from the law firm owned by her own godmother.

Sarah Gaulin, 39, of Warwick, is accused of embezzling more than $740,000 from the law firm Hamel, Waxler, Allen and Collins – where she worked as a bookkeeper — and collecting nearly $20,000 in fraudulent temporary disability insurance payments from the state. 

Court documents show she has agreed to plead guilty to bank and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. An aggravated identity theft conviction comes with a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years consecutive with any other sentence that is handed down.

One of the alleged victims of the embezzlement scheme is Eva Marie Mancuso, a well-known attorney and former chairperson of the R.I. Board of Education. 

Gaulin is also Mancuso’s goddaughter, and Mancuso said that relationship allowed the activity to go on for years because she trusted Gaulin with her books at the firm. 

“We spent holidays at her house, at my house, she’s my godchild,” Mancuso said. “I felt betrayed.”

Mancuso said when money at the firm was running dry, she opened the books her goddaughter had been keeping.

“I pulled the bank statements and I was sick to my stomach, it was all right in front of me,” she said.

According to court documents filed Wednesday at U.S. District Court in Providence, prosecutors allege Gaulin cashed checks made out to the law firm “often writing false notations in the memo lines of these checks to make it appear she was entitled to the funds.”

Prosecutors say Gaulin used the ill-gotten gains to pay “her landlord, the auto-leasing and auto-financing companies for her and a family member’s vehicles, her cable company, and her cell-phone carrier.”

The long-running theft spanned seven years, from 2012 to 2019, according to documents.

“She forged my name over 600 times between documents and checks, and everything,” Mancuso said. 

Because of the lean years during the alleged embezzlement, Mancuso said she and her husband Sean Feeney – one of the partners at the firm – had to get part time jobs. The tight time didn’t initially raise any alarm bells because Mancuso said they often fronted a lot of money for personal injury cases. 

“My husband and I will be working for a lot of years to make up for these dollars,” Mancuso sad. “Shame on her, shame on her for doing this to us and putting us in this situation.”

Mancuso is the daughter of a legend in Rhode Island law enforcement, the late Providence Police Col. Anthony Mancuso, who was also a detective with the R.I. State Police during the heyday of organized crime. Gaulin is the granddaughter of Mancuso’s uncle, and she said this ordeal has torn the family apart.

“Our family has suffered a lot. It’s shattered. Our big Italian, loving warm family is now very bifurcated,” she said. “The thought that this is anything other than a real betrayal against Sean and I is just unimaginable to me.”

“Hopefully the sunlight that is coming on this, they will see,” she said.

Gaulin is also accused of providing false information to obtain a mortgage for her Warwick home, and bilking the state of money for a fraudulent disability claim to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.

Prosecutors said she claimed she was too hurt to work, collecting more than $19,000 in TDI benefits, while she continued to work for the firm.

Gaulin will be ordered to forfeit more than $760,000 in money and property, including items specifically listed in the court documents like “One yellow gold Cartier Love bracelet, one ‘Juste Un Clou’ yellow gold Cartier bracelet [and] one Chanel Purse.”

An initial hearing for the plea agreement has not yet been scheduled. Gaulin’s attorney John MacDonald declined to comment.

“I feel very, very disappointed and betrayed,” Mancuso said. “If you think it’s anger coming out, it’s not; it’s hurt and pain.”

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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