A former bookkeeper for prominent Portland attorney Daniel Lilley pleaded guilty Friday and was sentenced to 30 months in prison for forging checks and stealing at least $236,000 – and as much as $844,000 – from Lilley’s law firm over a four-year period.

Jaime Butler, 41, of Falmouth pleaded guilty to one count of theft and one count of forgery, both felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Her actual sentence was five years with half of that suspended. In addition to her prison term, Butler was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution.

“(Lilley) entrusted to a very large extent the financial operation of the firm to Ms. Butler,” Justice Andrew Horton said during Friday’s hearing in Cumberland County Unified Court. “He put his trust and confidence in her and the evidence is clear that she abused that trust (and) violated the trust he had placed in her in a very substantial way.”

Lilley, who practiced for almost 50 years, had a flair for courtroom drama and was involved in dozens of memorable and high-profile cases. He died in March 2017 at age 79.

His widow, Annette, and his son, Daniel Lilley II, and daughter-in-law, Elaine, attended Butler’s sentencing. They declined to speak to a reporter, but Lilley’s son read a statement that made it clear the family had hoped for a longer sentence.

“My father’s passion was the law,” Lilley said. “He trusted employees he paid well to do their job and not lie about it. Not only did Jaime Butler steal, she lied and she continued to lie to my father throughout her five years of employment.”

Butler also declined, through her attorneys, to speak to a reporter, but made a brief statement in court.

The late Daniel Lilley, who practiced for almost 50 years, had a flair for courtroom drama and was involved in dozens of memorable and high-profile cases. Gregory Rec/Staff file photo

“I would just like to say I’m really sorry for what I did. I understand my actions,” she said, turning to the Lilley family. “And I would like to say to the Lilley family how sorry I am.”

According to court documents, Lilley hired Butler in 2012 to be a bookkeeper and accountant for his firm. Her salary was $60,000.

Beginning in January 2013, Butler began writing checks to herself from the law firm’s account and frequently forged his signature while doing so. She then either failed to enter the checks into the firm’s accounting software or entered them as checks payable to other vendors.

This continued until two weeks before Lilley’s death. The state alleged in its initial complaint that Butler diverted $844,335 in the form of 376 checks over the four-year period, but Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said Friday that the state was prepared to prove she wrote 125 unauthorized checks totaling $236,024 if the case went to trial.

The discrepancies were discovered only after Lilley died and family members began looking through his finances. Butler was fired in April 2017 on suspicion that she was responsible, but criminal charges were not brought until that December.

“As further evidence of her intent to conceal the payments, she cashed 125 of the suspect checks, in the aggregate amount of $236,024, not at her personal bank but at RepubliCash – a check cashing service that charges a transaction fee of 1.99 percent to 3 percent for every check cashed,” Robbin said. “By cashing the checks through RepubliCash, rather than depositing them or cashing them through her personal account, Ms. Butler paid nearly $5,000 in fees. That just does not make any financial sense unless you look at the scheme.”

How Butler spent that money was not detailed in court documents.

The last check Butler wrote to herself, for $3,500, was two days after Lilley went into intensive care at a local hospital in February 2017.

“This final heartless act of theft was committed while my father lay on his deathbed,” Lilley’s son said.

The younger Lilley also questioned Butler’s ability to pay such a large amount of restitution. He said his family, particularly his mother, has suffered greatly because of Butler’s actions. He said after his father’s death, vendors were calling for payments that were never made.

“Who paid those outstanding bills?” he said. “My mother did because there was no money left in the checking account from my father’s office. My mother made whole these innocent victims who had gone to my father for his legal expertise. She did not let them suffer due to Jaime Butler being a thief.”

The family has filed a lawsuit against Butler seeking monetary damages. Their attorney, Walter McKee, said Friday that the suit is pending and he didn’t have an update.

Butler has no prior criminal history and is a mother to two school-age children, which Horton considered mitigating factors when considering her sentence. He also noted that she had taken responsibility for her crimes.

She was instructed to report for her prison sentence on Feb. 3

Lilley’s career as a defense attorney spanned a half century and involved many high-profile cases. He continued practicing long past retirement age.

In 1985, he defended Tony DiMillo of DiMillo’s Restaurant and Lounge, who was acquitted of tax evasion.

In 1990, Jackie Bevins of Ogunquit was charged with murder after allegedly shooting her husband 15 times, and reloading her gun in the process. Lilley used a “battered wife syndrome” defense, and Bevins was acquitted.

And in 2013, Lilley represented Mark Strong Sr., a defendant in the Zumba prostitution scandal in Kennebunk. Strong was found guilty in York County Superior Court of 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiring to promote prostitution. Prosecutors argued that Strong and Zumba instructor Alexis Wright worked together.

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