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Mansion Clam House ex-owner sentenced to jail for embezzling $1.8M

Updated 11:13 am, Friday, August 2, 2013
  • Soozi Folsom, an owner of the Mansion Clam House restaurant on Riverside Avenue, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $1.8 million from three educational foundations while working another job at a local accounting firm. Photo: Cameron Martin / Westport News

    Soozi Folsom, an owner of the Mansion Clam House restaurant on Riverside Avenue, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $1.8 million from three educational foundations while working another job at a local accounting firm.

    Photo: Cameron Martin

 

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In the end, the clams did in Soozi Folsom.

Not the hard-shelled variety she served at the Mansion Clam House restaurant at 541 Riverside Ave. that she had co-owned. But $1,836,973 of the green paper "clams" that she was accused of embezzling from three educational foundations for which Gunn, Godfrey & Allison of Westport handled accounting.

Folsom also was the firm's financial manager.

Folsom, 55, of Westport, was sentenced Aug. 1 to three years and 10 months in federal prison as a result of her Aug. 30, 2012, guilty plea to bank fraud. U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in Hartford also ordered Folsom to pay all of the money back -- including nearly $500,000 to Gunn, Godfrey & Allison.

At the accounting firm where she worked since late 1999, Folsom was responsible for processing and issuing checks for grants and accounts payable, preparing for audit, overseeing accounts payable and receivables and preparing for quarterly reports.

The firm handled accounts for three educational foundations: Educational Foundation of America, which has assets in excess of $160 million and makes annual gifts ranging from $9 million to $11 million; the Prentice Foundation Inc., which has assets ranging from $17 to $22 million and annually gifts $2 million, and the Ettinger Foundation Inc., which has assets of $18 million and gifts several million a year, court documents show.

The fraud was discovered when an employee of the accounting firm noticed a $16,459 check payable to Groundhog LLC on one of the foundation's bank statements, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Wines.

The accounting firm then ran a check on Groundhog LLC and determined it owns Mansion Clam House. They also discovered that Groundhog lists Folsom, her wife, Inger-Lise Holen, and Rigo Lino, a chef, as principals.

The firm confronted Folsom, who admitted embezzling funds. Their investigation determined that between September 2008 and November 2011, Folsom wrote at least 124 fraudulent checks to Groundhog LLC and forged signatures on the checks in order to convert the proceeds to her own personal use. Folsom also created false entries to cover up her scheme. The prosecutor also claimed Folsom caused unauthorized electronic fund transfers from the foundations' bank accounts.

Folsom claims that her failing restaurant business contributed to her actions.

"In a pat circumstance of criminal self-delusion, the defendant first stole from the foundations to cover personal business losses and believed she would repay the money before it was discovered," William Westbrook, Folsom's lawyer told the judge.

Frank Murphy, Gunn, Godfrey & Allison's lawyer, said that what was particularly troubling was that Colin Gunn, the firm's recently deceased founder, had helped Folsom after her father died when she was a teenager and provided her with jobs.

In return, he said Folsom's conduct cost the firm clients, which led to seven of its 13 employees being let go.

"This is the kind of crime that should frighten every small accounting firm, law firm or insurance company in the state," he said.

"This was an extremely serious offense," Bryant said. "It was a regular occurrence over a series of years. Not only did she do it, but she thwarted detection."

Folsom, who stand about 5 feet tall and wears glasses, had her brown hair in a pony tail during her appearance.

"They trusted me as a colleague, treated me as a friend and I betrayed both their trust and their friendship," Folsom said by way of apology. "I will work the rest of my life every hour I can to make full restitution."

The prosecutor claims in court papers that while the investigation was ongoing, Folsom transferred $50,000 from the sale of her home and later sent $12,000 from a tax refund to Holen, who has since returned to Norway. Holen also received unlawful payments from the embezzlement, according to lawyers for the accounting firm.

"That money obviously could have been used to provide restitution in this case," said Wines.