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Employee charged with embezzling $450,000 from Greenfield firm

GREENFIELD — A 39-year-old Greenfield woman has been charged with embezzling approximately $450,000 from a local attorney’s office where she worked.

She denied fraud charges in Franklin Superior Court.

Melissa A. Wright of 335 Adams Road pleaded innocent to charges of forgery of a check, passing a false check and larceny over $250. She was released on personal recognizance after her arraignment Monday and is scheduled to appear in court again for a change of plea hearing Jan. 23. A grand jury indicted Wright on the charges Dec. 9.

According to First Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Steven E. Gagne, Wright allegedly embezzled the money from Greenfield attorney Mark I. Berson from about Jan. 1, 2008, to Feb. 14, 2012.

Wright had been responsible for payroll, bookkeeping, and accounts payable and receivable at Berson’s law practice, among other tasks, according to the district attorney’s office.

“Attorney Berson has a very robust law practice,” Gagne said by telephone Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the theft went undiscovered.”

Wright could not be reached for comment and her voice mail was full and not accepting messages. Her attorney, Alexander Nappan of Greenfield, also could not be reached Tuesday.

Gagne said the district attorney’s office began investigating the case after Berson noticed problems in the finances of his law practice. “He had noticed some irregularities in his payroll and bookkeeping, both of which Melissa Wright had access to,” Gagne said.

It is not entirely clear where the allegedly stolen money went. “Her (Wright’s) attorney tells me the money is gone, it’s been spent,” Gagne said.

The case had been under investigation by the district attorney office’s economic crimes unit for nearly a year and a half before it was brought to a grand jury.

“It’s a very records-intensive case,” Gagne said. “A lot of banking records were subpoenaed and analyzed and distilled so that a grand jury could understand them.”

The economic crimes unit was established last year when prosecutors in the district attorney’s office were investigating nearly a dozen cases of alleged fraud involving approximately $1.25 million. A key hire at the time was Robert M. Harrison, a forensic investigator whose role is to support prosecutors handling financial cases.

“The services of Bob Harrison have been invaluable in a case like this,” said Gagne, of the alleged fraud at Berson’s law practice. “Bob knows what to look for. What’s there, what’s not there and what should be there.”

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