Mark Twain House Embezzlement Donna Gregor
A federal judge showed little sympathy Monday to an East Hartford grandmother who claimed she embezzled more than $1 million from the Mark Twain House and Museum to support her struggling, extended family.
Senior U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton allowed Donna Gregor, who faced fraud and tax charges, to address him to apologize for eight years of theft she committed while employed as controller of the national landmark museum on Hartford's west side. He watched a brief, video plea from Gregor's mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer and is being cared for by her daughter.
But the judge told Gregor's lawyer, Gerald Giaimo, that he would not permit three of Gregor's supporters to speak in court. And he interrupted Giaimo about halfway through a pitch for leniency to let the lawyer know he already had made up his mind. He said Gregor was going to prison.
Eginton sentenced Gregor, 54, of East Hartford to 42 months in prison — less than the 51 to 63 months she faced under the sentencing guidelines in effect in federal court. The judge also ordered Gregor to pay back the $1.08 million she embezzled, plus $500,000 the museum's insurer paid to cover the loss and $323,480 to the IRS for taxes, penalties and interest on the stolen money.
Recently, Gregor attracted support from academics who believe she may have been driven by an irrational compulsion to support her family while ignoring the consequences of her behavior. Students of the condition even have a name for it: pathological altruism.
Interest in the condition is growing because of publicity connected to the impending publication by Oxford University Press of a book by the same name.
Barbara Oakley, an associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Michigan, is lead editor and a contributor to the book. She wrote a letter last week to Eginton in which she said it is her opinion that Gregor stole — without considering the consequences — from a need to support children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and siblings who were living in broken homes, in trouble with the law or suffering from substance abuse.
"There is an important difference between a con artist and a pathological altruist," Oakley wrote to Eginton. "Con artists intend to personally benefit from a crime. Pathological altruists may benefit through the 'lift' in their neural rewards circuit as a result of their help to others, but they do not normally materially benefit from their efforts."
Eginton's sentence suggests he found the argument posed by federal prosecutors to be more persuasive. They said Gregor was driven by greed because she wanted things she could not afford on her Twain House salary.
Among other things, prosecutors said Gregor spent $936 on four visits to a hair salon, $1,105 on tickets for a Britney Spears concert, $812 at the box office at the Foxwoods Resort Casino, $23,000 on kitchen remodeling and tens of thousands of dollars at department stores.
Gregor stole increasing sums from 2002 to 2010 and manipulated the museum books to cover the theft. She stole some of the money by forging the name of a museum executive on checks she wrote to herself
The embezzlement ended when a representative of Gregor's bank, after eight years, called the museum to verify the signature on a check. When asked about the signature, Gregor confessed, according to a source familiar with the case.