- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - The former finance director of a small Connecticut town pleaded guilty Friday to larceny charges stemming from the theft of more than $2 million, a prosecutor said.

Henry Centrella Jr. entered the plea to five counts of first-degree larceny in Litchfield Superior Court, said Litchfield State’s Attorney David Shepack. Centrella stole about $2.1 million over several years from the town of Winchester, Shepack said.

A message left for Centrella’s attorney was not immediately returned.

The theft was so severe the town had to impose a tax increase that cost the average taxpayer about $300, said Mayor Lisa Smith, who was elected in November. She said the town, which has a population of about 11,000, was struggling to pay its bills and meet payrolls when she took office.

“It was a serious financial impact to the town and the taxpayers,” Smith said, adding the town was recovering and focusing on the future.

Town Manager Dale Martin compared the effect on the town to a devastating flood in 1955 that left lasting scars.

“It’s had a paralyzing effect on the development of the town and I think this will be a similar impact for many, many years to come,” Martin said.

A plea deal recommends an 11-year prison sentence for Centrella when he is sentenced in April.

Authorities say Centrella and his wife had gambling losses of more than $500,000 from 2008 through 2012, citing records from casinos including Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods in Connecticut.

Centrella also was sending about $1,000 per month to a woman in Florida he had met at a casino, according to his arrest affidavit. The woman told authorities he said he was divorced and they became engaged in 2009 and they looked at houses in Florida of up to $1 million, with Centrella claiming he acquired cash from selling land to Disney World and through Google stock, investigators said.

Centrella prepaid for her custom wedding dress, flowers and a dining hall, but the wedding was postponed because of Centrella’s health, according to the affidavit. The woman became suspicious when he would not visit her and she confronted him in 2012, learning he was still married, authorities said.

Centrella was finance director from 1982 until he was fired last year and had a salary of about $78,000, according to his arrest affidavit. Investigators believe Centrella removed cash from daily deposit bags from the tax department and replaced the cash with revenue checks received by other departments.

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