By Betsy Cribb
“This whole story is the story of a small town that is so loving and trusting …. That’s how we all got into this mess, basically,” says local business owner Stephanie Wilkinson.
And it was a big, expensive mess.
In a little more than six months, starting in August 2008, Lexington native and bookkeeper Alison Mutispaugh managed to steal more than half a million dollars from nine Lexington businesses, including Wilkinson’s restaurant, The Red Hen, Perkins and Orrison, Inc., a survey company, and Schweizer Associates, a local architect.
The numbers recorded in Mutispaugh’s case file at the Rockbridge County Courthouse are staggering: six counts of forgery, nine counts of embezzlement, at least nine victims, and upwards of $553,000 taken.
Rockbridge County Circuit Judge Michael Irvine ordered Mutispaugh to pay that amount in restitution and sentenced her to nine years in prison with 10 years of supervised probation, according to court documents. She never finished serving her sentence.
The wounds the case left are still raw. Of the business owners we contacted, only Wilkinson would talk openly about it. One business owner was reduced to tears by the request.
The sense of betrayal by Mutispaugh was one factor.
“I felt sad and a little betrayed,” Wilkinson said. “I don’t think I felt as bad as some people must have who really had their livelihoods threatened by this. But it just felt tremendously sad and confusing …. ‘What were you thinking and why did you do it?’”
But her victims also said they were concerned for Mutispaugh’s family: Mutispaugh died in jail in Roanoke in 2010 after her conviction in Rockbridge County.
She was in the Roanoke jail because her conviction in Lexington triggered a probation violation. She had been convicted in Roanoke in 1995 of embezzling $200,000.
“It feels a little bit like a community tragedy in that she is a product of our town,” said Wilkinson. “She was given a second chance by our town, and she just failed us and failed herself miserably.”
The numbers and court documents don’t tell the whole story, says Amy Gianniny, Mutispaugh’s former employer.
“There are faces and emotions behind the numbers and print that you read,” Gianniny, who now works as a director of property management in Virginia Beach, wrote in an email. “While difficult and financially devastating, I feel that my family’s story has a continued happy ending. I will tell you that we were fortunate to live in a community that recognized our struggle and continued to give their support and send business.”
But others, including Mutispaugh’s family, are still struggling.
“Alison’s actions hurt many innocent people, including her own family,” said Mutispaugh’s family in an email. “Despite her crimes, Alison was still a loving mother and daughter who is greatly missed. We continue to grieve and feel a deep sense of loss as a result of her death.”
Architect Heidi Schweitzer said she feels that pain, too.
“It was about so much more than the lost money,” she said.
Hendley Badcock and Krysta Huber contributed to this story.