Museum says ex-employee pocketed $1m

HOLLIS – A town resident and her three children are being sued by the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Mass., for allegedly embezzling more than $1 million from the museum.

Peggy Kempton, the former chief financial officer of Fruitlands, and her children, Bunker Kempton, Kristen Kempton, and Robert M. Kempton, Jr., are facing a civil suit filed in Worcester Superior Court earlier this week.

Kempton, 52, and her children reside at 38 Main St.

Information about the accusations has been forwarded to the Massachusetts attorney general’s office for possible criminal prosecution, according the museum.

The museum’s former accounting firm, Solar & Kilcoyne, which has offices in Worcester and Leominster, has also been named as a defendant in the suit, according to court documents.

The complaint, filed Tuesday, states Fruitlands hired Peggy Kempton as CFO/deputy director in July 1997, giving her responsibility for supervising the daily operation of the museum.

Kempton was the only employee who handled check writing, banking and tax matters for the museum, according to the suit.

Kempton is accused of leasing a museum-owned cottage for $1,400 a month, not including utilities, but not making any payments. Instead, the suit states, she diverted checks from a museum bank account to pay for her utilities.

In addition, the museum’s former accountant failed to find and report the irregularities, according to the suit.

The museum asserts that Kempton paid two of her children thousands of dollars for work they did at the Fruitlands: $18,598.59 for 1,800 hours of work to one child and $10,522.50 to another for 1,000 hours of work.

By 2007, the suit states, Peggy Kempton was earning an annual salary of about $67,000 from the nonprofit Fruitlands.

The newspaper called the Kempton residence for comment, but no one picked up the phone. The family did not have an answering machine available.

Fruitlands executive director Maude Ayson said the museum has implemented “new procedures” over the past six months, following Kempton’s departure from the organization in February.

“The board mobilized,” Ayson said, describing an investigation that included a forensic audit.

In June, the museum hired Tim Firment, previously treasurer of the board of trustees, to serve as CFO.

“It was a total breach of trust,” Firment said during a telephone interview Friday afternoon.

“Things like that don’t happen. It’s been very hard for the staff and board in terms of that breach of trust.”

Firment said the 94-year-old museum is now “moving ahead.”

The Fruitlands, a 210-acre complex, includes the first Shaker museum in the world, a American Indian museum, a fine art gallery and walking trails.

The complex is listed in the National Register of historic places and is famous for many of its residents, including author Louisa May Alcott and members of the Transcendentalist Movement such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.