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‘Trail of destruction’: Warwick woman sentenced to 5 years in theft from godmother’s law firm

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Warwick woman who pleaded guilty to charges that she bilked three-quarters of a million dollars from her own godmother’s law firm was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison.

Sarah Gaulin, 39, pleaded guilty last year to four felony counts including bank and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The identity theft charge comes with a statutorily required two years behind bars, and Rhode Island U.S. District Judge William Smith added an additional three years on the fraud counts.

One of the victims is Gaulin’s godmother, Eva Marie Mancuso, an attorney and partner at Hamel, Waxler, Allen and Collins. Mancuso is also the former chairperson of the R.I. Board of Education and a prominent Rhode Island Democrat.

Gaulin worked as a bookkeeper for Hamel, Waxler, Allen and Collins, giving her direct access to the firm’s ledger and checkbook. Assistant U.S. Attorney Dulce Donovan said in court that Gaulin meticulously siphoned more than $740,000 from the firm over “at least” seven years, saying bank records obtained by prosecutors only went back that far.

“There was clear evidence she was in the throes of her fraud seven years ago,” Donovan said. “She didn’t just start seven years ago.”

“She stole every way she could,” Donovan added. “She hid her actions, disturbingly, with a smile.”

According to prosecutors, Gaulin used the ill-gotten gains on “meals, utilities, medical bills, and furniture,” as well as “Cartier bracelets and designer purses.”

Gaulin also admitted to 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.

Mancuso and her husband, Sean Feeney, gave victim impact statements during the sentencing, asking Smith to send Gaulin to prison for seven years on the fraud case — one year behind bars for each year the government could prove Gaulin stole from them. 

“She used our trust,” Feeney said. “She used our personal information that we entrusted to her, to steal, to cover up and to be betray us.”

In an emotional and fiery statement, Mancuso took aim at some members of her own family who wrote letters on Gaulin’s behalf asking the judge to spare her prison time and sentence her to probation.

“Probation for taking away our retirement? Are you kidding me?” Mancuso said. “She’s a criminal. This isn’t a family matter — this is a criminal matter, judge.”

Joanne Daley, Gaulin’s court-appointed attorney, said her client suffered 15 years of abuse from a previous relationship and has since been diagnosed with PTSD and adjustment disorder with anxiety, which she said fueled her illegal behavior. Daley said Gaulin is selling her home to try and make restitution in the case. 

“She cannot un-ring that bell,” Daley said, adding that Gaulin has two children, ages 15 and one. “She knows she is solely to blame.” 

Gaulin apologized to the court for her actions and said she was “deeply sorry for the pain I caused my family.”

“I am asking for some leniency so I can be home with my kids as soon as possible,” she told the court.

But Smith said there was “no way” he would spare Gaulin prison time for the fraud counts based on the amount that was stolen.

“It’s amazing to me the trail of destruction you have created here,” Smith said. “You blew a hole in this family that is probably never going to be repaired.”

Smith ordered any restitution payments to go to Mancuso and Feeney first, then to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training for the fake TDI claim.

Mancuso is also the daughter of a legend in Rhode Island law enforcement, the late Providence Police Col. Anthony Mancuso, who was a detective with the R.I. State Police during the heyday of organized crime in Rhode Island.

Smith ordered Gaulin to surrender herself to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on June 1.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

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