BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A woman has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for embezzling more than $1 million from the Mark Twain House and Museum, a crime that added to the financial woes of the Hartford landmark that had been struggling to pay its bills.
Donna Gregor, a 54-year-old former museum employee, apologized for stealing the money at the sentencing hearing Monday in federal court in Bridgeport. Gregor faced up to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty in August to wire fraud and filing a false tax return.
The officials who run the gingerbread Gothic home said it has recovered financially and they are happy to put the case behind them.
"We are grateful that the case involving the theft of funds from the Mark Twain House and Museum has been resolved and justice has been served," the museum said on its website. "We want to assure our friends that stringent controls are in place and our financial condition is sound and we thank them for their continued interest and support."
An attorney for Gregor, Gerald Giaimo, had argued for leniency, saying his client was supporting several troubled family members including her cancer-stricken mother.
"The crime was anomalous with the type of person she is," Giaimo said. "Despite what some reports have said she was not living a life of luxury and feeding some type of shopping habit."
The thefts occurred during a time when the Twain House was in dire financial straits, trying to repay millions in bank loans from expansions and struggling to meet its yearly budget.
In 2008, it even cut two-thirds of its staff and made other reductions, but had barely enough money to pay three weeks' worth of bills before publicity generated a spate of donations.
The author and humorist built the house in 1874 and wrote many of his best known works during the 17 years that he lived there, including "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and its sequel, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Struggling with debt, Twain had to sell the home in 1903. The building was rescued from demolition in 1927 and is now a prime tourist attraction in Connecticut's capital city.
In addition to her jail sentence, Gregor was ordered to pay restitution to the Mark Twain House for the money she stole between 2002 and 2010. After serving her prison sentence she also faces three years of supervised release.
Authorities say Gregor submitted false information via the Internet to the museum's payroll management vendor to get more pay than she was entitled to and used the museum's check-writing system to write checks payable to herself and forged the signatures of her supervisors on those checks.
Prosecutors said she used the proceeds of her theft for home improvements, theater tickets, dining out, mortgage payments, credit card payments and car payments.