WOBURN, Mass. - State prosecutors have charged a Lowell area woman with embezzling more than $135,000 in taxpayer money meant for children with disabilities, according to court documents filed Tuesday in Middlesex Superior Court.
25 Investigates first reported allegations against Amy Young, the former director of family support at Chelmsford-based LifeLinks, in June 2017.
Original 25 Investigates report: 25 Investigates: Nonprofit manager suspected of stealing tax dollars meant for disabled kids
The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office revealed more details of its investigation into Young after her first court appearance on Tuesday.
According to the criminal complaint, Young admitted she embezzled money from LifeLinks between 2011 and 2016. The non-profit organization is a state contractor that passes along funding from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Greater Lowell area.
Investigators say Young was finally exposed in 2016 after she had LifeLinks cut a check for $2,200 to the Wamesit Lanes bowling alley in Tewksbury for a supposed "Family Support Parents Night Out" party. Young allegedly provided the names of 22 people who got assistance from LifeLinks, but her own Facebook messages later revealed that she had actually hosted a "sorority reunion party" at the location and that none of the LifeLinks family members attended an event there.
Prosecutors say Young also diverted taxpayer money to pay for home contractors, gym memberships, camps for her own children, doctor's and dentist's bills and electronic equipment.
According to the Attorney General's statement of the case, Young told investigators that the check request forms to get money from the state was "an easy system to take advantage of" and "that her behavior got out of control."
She pleaded not guilty and did not answer questions as she was leaving the courthouse on Tuesday.
LifeLinks also declined comment, but in 2017 the organization told 25 Investigates that the alleged theft “did not directly impact any services received by individuals and families.”
Some parents, including Lisa Gallagher-Puccia aren't convinced.
"I know my family was affected because we didn't receive any funding all these years," said Gallagher-Puccia. "Now I have to jump through hoops, so it's just crazy, but I'd like to know what's going to happen with the money and how the families are going to be reimbursed after all of these years."
DDS briefly stopped LifeLinks from accepting any new referrals during the investigation, but now says services were reopened in September 2017 after the non-profit met benchmarks associated with a “Corrective Action Plan” instituted by the state.
The state’s own investigation found Young embezzled more than $228,000, but says it recouped the money.
If convicted, Young could face a maximum of five years in prison or up to a $25,000 fine.
"I hope if justice is served, she'll do some jail time. That's just my personal opinion," said Gallagher-Puccia. "I know there are other people who feel the same way."
© 2019 Cox Media Group.