St. George woman pleads guilty to stealing Social Security checks

By MIKE DONOGHUE

A former Merchants Bank vice president has pleaded guilty to stealing $93,345 by continuing to cash her mother’s Social Security checks for five years after she died.

Carol Philbin, 66, of St. George admitted in U.S. District Court in Burlington Friday that she made false statements to a federal agency so she could continue to receive the Social Security checks after her mother died July 2, 2009. The checks kept coming until 2014, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, and Philbin used the money for her own purposes.

Under a plea agreement that allows Philbin, a former Selectboard member in St. George, to avoid going to prison, she is expected to pay $50,000 in restitution to Social Security before her sentencing hearing on Feb. 11. The remaining $43,345 in restitution will be split evenly over the following three years.

No interest is being charged on the stolen money.

Philbin could have been sentenced to five years behind bars, followed by three years of federal supervision, and fined up to $250,000.

Judge Christina Reiss accepted Philbin’s guilty plea and agreed to release her on conditions; one requires her to stay away from government witnesses. Philbin will get credit for accepting responsibility for the crime when she’s sentenced.

According to court documents, Philbin is a former vice president for personal trusts at Merchants Bank in Vermont and before that was a trust officer at various other banks.

After her mother had a stroke, Philbin served as the trustee for her estate during the rest of her life, records show.

When her mother died on July 2, 2009, Philbin chose not to notify authorities, and kept cashing her mother’s checks, collecting about $18,500 a year for five years that she was never entitled to receive.

Philbin’s LinkedIn profile says she is self-employed at Yellow Wood Studio as a textile artist and jewelry designer in Shelburne. Her biography says she is a Colby College graduate and was a family mentor sponsor for the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. Assistant U.S. Attorney Abigail Averbach is prosecuting the case; Middlebury lawyer Peter Langrock is defending Philbin.

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