SALEM — Rebecca "Becki" Carson "always showed up with a smile and a sassy personality," the "fun babysitter" as beloved as family to the Manchester couple and their children.
Over the course of nearly 15 years, they paid the Gloucester woman to watch their kids and later their house, gave her Christmas bonuses and even a cash gift when she got married. She had a key and the alarm code to their home.
But Carson, they and prosecutors say, wanted more. Over at least a five-year period, she stole, forged and cashed 150 checks worth $157,550 from Mark and Cindy Ross, the prosecutor told a Salem Superior Court judge on Tuesday.
Carson, the prosecutor said, took pains to hide the thefts, tearing checks from the back of the checkbook and making sure to tear out the carbon page that would leave a record as well.
But she made little effort to hide the financial gain, the couple told the court, buying a third car even though she had been given a vehicle by Mary Kay for selling so much product, and taking exotic trips.
"You flaunted these things in our face by sending us pictures," Mark Ross told Carson. The photos would include a message, he said. "We love it here so much we may never come back," he quoted her as writing.
"What kind of twisted mind commits hundreds of crimes against us and then uses it to stick a knife in our back?" he asked.
"If I sound angry, you bet I am," he continued. "You damaged our family."
Request for leniency
Carson, 37, of 39 Eastern Ave. in Gloucester, was in court with her attorney Tuesday to ask that she be spared from serving any time in custody if she pleaded guilty to several larceny counts stemming from the scheme, making an offer of restitution that both the judge and a prosecutor suggested she'd never be able to pay.
Carson and her attorney, Edward McNaught, argued that prison, where she could be exposed to the COVID-19 virus, could kill her, saying that she suffers from a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, and, he said, morbid obesity.
McNaught also told the judge that Carson gave birth to her first child 10 weeks ago, and she had only recently resumed taking medication for a mental health condition he said was the result of being raised by "hoarders" in New York.
McNaught said that Carson will still pay a price: "She's a convicted felon," he said, who will always now have to struggle to find employment even with her master's degree. "It's not going to go away in a year or five years. It's going to be her brand ... the first thing that comes up online is a link to the indictment. That is my client's scarlet letter."
He also suggested that Carson regrets the loss of her relationship with the family. "That's a heavy burden," McNaught told the judge.
Prosecutor Susan Dolhun, meanwhile, asked for a sentence of two to three years in prison for Carson, saying there's no realistic way that Carson, who has lost her teaching career as a result of the charges, will ever be able to repay even a fraction of the money she stole. Imposing probation and restitution she cannot be forced to pay, said the prosecutor, essentially amounts to no punishment at all.
'She always had an excuse, never an apology'
The couple first hired Carson to watch their then-young children in 2005.
There was an early "red flag," Dolhun told the judge, when a diamond engagement ring disappeared. Carson told the couple that she'd tried it on but it got stuck on her finger, so she went home and removed it there.
"I beat myself up over and over when I think about how I gave you a second chance," Mark Ross told Carson during his impact statement. The story never made sense — the ring was well-hidden and Carson would have had to search hard to find it, the couple said.
The kids, said the couple, loved Carson.
"Her scheme went on for years, and it would have gone on for years more had they not caught her," said the prosecutor. Even after she was questioned by Manchester police, Carson claimed that she "found" the checks.
"She always had an excuse, never an apology, for this scheme," said Dolhun.
Dolhun said that Carson should not benefit solely due to the fact that the couple's financial status shielded them from hardship after the thefts. "It is because of their financial status that Ms. Carson chose to prey on them," Dolhun told the judge.
The real damage, said Dolhun, was the "breach of trust" Carson committed. "They took her into their house, and she manipulated them. She manipulated their children."
Carson would often call the house asking to drop by with a present for one of the kids.
During her visits, the Rosses now believe, Carson would slip off to the room where they kept their checkbooks.
Both the couple and the judge also expressed incredulity at Carson's choice to have a child while facing serious felony charges.
The hearing came to an abrupt end, however, during a victim-impact statement, when Judge Salim Tabit suddenly realized that his daughter went to school with one of the couple's children and had to recuse himself — a prospect that means the couple will potentially face the wrenching process of coming face-to-face with Carson again in court.
A different judge will be assigned to hear the case when it is back in court on Aug. 19.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.