PLYMOUTH – David Bertnagel is out of prison and on home confinement in Thomaston, as his sentence is projected to end Sept. 13.
In May of 2015, Bertnagel was sentenced to 30 months in prison for theft and tax charges stemming from his embezzlement of more than $800,000 when he was town finance director. He began his sentence July 10, 2015, and spent most of that time at Fort Devens, a minimum security federal prison in Massachusetts.
He is not being released early, but likely earned credit that counted toward his sentence, according to Justin Long, spokesperson for the Office of Public Affairs at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Long noted that, for privacy reasons, he cannot speak to an individual inmate’s situation but can speak generally about federal statutes and policy.
He cited a federal statute that states “... a prisoner who is serving a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year... may receive credit toward the service of the prisoner’s sentence... of up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner’s term of imprisonment, beginning at the end of the first year of the term, subject to determination by the Bureau of Prisons that, during that year, the prisoner has displayed exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.”
Bertnagel’s home confinement is being overseen by the New York Residential Reentry Management Office, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., Long said.
The Bureau of Prison’s policy on pre-release custody allows that a prisoner may spend “a reasonable part, not to exceed six months, of the last 10 per centum of the term to be served under conditions that will afford the prisoner a reasonable opportunity to adjust to and prepare for his re-entry into the community…” including “on home confinement” with assistance from the probation system.
“Home confinement is a time of testing and an opportunity for inmates to assume increasing levels of personal responsibility while providing sufficient restriction to promote community safety and continue the sanction of the sentence. Compliance with the conditions of home confinement may be monitored by electronic monitoring equipment or by regular telephone or in person contacts by supervision staff,” the policy continues.
The policy also states: “Generally, an inmate may be considered eligible for direct placement on home confinement if he or she:
o has no public safety factors,
o had excellent institutional adjustment,
o has a stable residence with a supportive family,
o has confirmed employment (if employable), and
o has little or no need for the services of a CCC [Community Corrections Center].”
The policy further states that an inmate placed on home confinement is still legally in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons and/or the U.S. Attorney General and “failure to remain at the required locations may result in disciplinary action and/or prosecution for escape.”
Bertnagel pleaded guilty to one count of theft from a local government receiving federal funds and one count of making and subscribing a false tax return. The tax charge stemmed from his failure to report any of his embezzled income on his federal tax returns for the 2012 and 2013.
After his sentence ends, he will be on three years’ of supervised release and must serve 1,500 hours of community service to the Town of Plymouth.
Mayor David Merchant said he has not been contacted by Bertnagel or anyone on his behalf about community service.
Merchant would not comment on Bertnagel’s situation other than to say, “I hope he has learned his lesson. He has served his time, and I hope he turns his life around and becomes a productive citizen.”
At the time of sentencing, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer said if the town is not willing to have Bertnagel do community service, he must work on a suitable project approved by the probation office.
As town finance director, Bertnagel issued 207 unauthorized checks totaling $808,029.94 from the town’s payroll account to himself, from October, 2011, through October, 2014, exploiting a weakness in the town’s accounting software.
He told Meyer he spent some of the money on the house he co-owns with his mother in Thomaston but most of it was spent on collectible coins and stamps.
Bertnagel is mandated to pay back the money to the town, plus another $146,564 to the IRS. The town has already been reimbursed by insurance and Bertnagel’s pensions from Plymouth and from when he worked in the Bristol comptroller’s office.
“Any additional monies that we get now will go back to the insurance company,” Merchant has said.
Bertnagel will also be required to take part in a court-approved mental health counseling program as part of his release. Meyer had said the counseling was required because of Bertnagel’s “lack of insight” into what he did.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.