Former store clerks charged with embezzlement from HasGas in Dorset

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BENNINGTON — Two women are accused of embezzling thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from a Dorset store while working there as clerks.

Hazel Prouty, 57, of Pawlet, and Lea Morse, 47, of East Arlington, are separately charged with embezzling more than $100 from HasGas General Store. The store employed them at different time periods.

Prouty, who was hired first, is alleged to have taken around $4,800 worth of cigarettes and $4,700 to $8,500 in lottery tickets between December 2013 and November 2016. Police said she "routinely stole" other store merchandise, such as deli goods, gas and toilet paper.

Meanwhile, Morse is accused of taking between $12,700 and $22,500 worth of lottery tickets between April 2017 and August 2018.

The felony charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.

Both women pleaded not guilty, though Morse is scheduled to change her plea on Thursday, according to Bennington Superior Court records.

Discovery in 2016

Vermont State Police began investigating Prouty in November 2016 when HasGas owner Vickie Haskins reported an increase in store losses, the same day Prouty was fired. Two other HasGas employees reportedly also told Haskins they'd seen Prouty taking merchandise without paying for it.

Prouty had been employed by the store from mid-2012, and in-house data showed that between February and November 2016 alone, 539 cigarette packs went missing. Most of the missing packs were brands that didn't sell well, but Prouty regularly ordered them as the clerk in charge of cigarette orders, according to a statement by VSP Trooper Nicholas Grimes.

After Prouty left, the store saw a significant decrease in missing cigarette packs, the police affidavit states. Haskins described her as a smoker.

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"Prouty started by taking 'little stuff' at first such as food and drinks," another HasGas clerk told police. "Prouty then began having a bag ready to go before she left work with cigarettes, food, meat from the deli, toiletries and paper products."

She apparently would take the bag to her car when she thought her co-workers weren't looking, and the items couldn't be accounted for in the day's sales.

Police said Prouty had told another clerk that "she had it made working at the general store and would never leave."

Two co-workers told police that Prouty encouraged them to take merchandise without paying since they worked there.

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After Prouty was fired, some customers supposedly became angry that they had to pay full price for coffee since Prouty had also given customers free merchandise.

Co-workers believe Prouty also took car fuel without paying — instead marking the transaction as gas for the store's truck drivers, according to the affidavit. On one occasion, a driver whom store records showed had filled up the previous day denied having done so.

A HasGas clerk told police Prouty was an avid player of scratch-off lottery tickets. The clerk talked about incidents in which the lottery ticket she sold turned out to have been scratched off, and believed Prouty had been tampering with the tickets.

Lottery tickets

Morse's in-store lottery playing came to light in 2018 when another HasGas employee noticed multiple crumpled lottery tickets in the store garbage.

A police search of the garbage bag turned up 108 pieces of $10 lottery tickets, Trooper Grimes said in his affidavit.

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When Haskins confronted Morse about the lottery drawer being short on cash, Morse reportedly admitted playing the lottery at work and not paying for the tickets. The affidavit quotes Morse as saying in a text message to the store owner: "I have a gambling addiction when I'm sad or stressed."

Morse gave a similar explanation to police, adding she told the owner about her gambling problem but that Haskins needed her to work on Saturdays.

Police said the store's surveillance video also showed several incidents of Morse's printing lottery tickets, checking to see if she had won and discarding those that didn't win.

When there is a net loss of lottery tickets played, HasGas is responsible for paying the Vermont Lottery Commission, police said.

Morse was charged in March 2019, about half a year after she stopped working at HasGas.

Prouty was charged in December 2019, three years after she was terminated.

The cases are being prosecuted by the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office. Both women are represented by the Office of the Defender General.

Prouty is scheduled to return to court on March 2.

Contact Tiffany Tan at ttan@benningtonbanner.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.


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