BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A former bookkeeper was sentenced to 2-6 years in prison for embezzling from her employer, a local plastic surgeon.
Justine Smith, 52, of Buffalo, appeared before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns on Monday.
In February, Smith pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny, Falsifying Business Records and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in connection with the theft.
“You can’t have one person be your entire bookkeeping operation,” said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
“Protect your business by making sure there’s more than one person in charge of bookkeeping. You need checks and balances inside your office,” he said.
Flynn says Smith worked as a bookkeeper at the Amherst office of Dr. Samuel Shatkin.
“This office was a profit sharing office. All the employees suffered, not just Dr. Shatkin. The entire operation suffered,” Flynn explained.
“There was a lot of cash in the office, and she took it upon herself obviously to pilfer a half a million dollars over the past five years,” he added.
According to prosecutors, Smith stole the money between January 2011 and October 2016.
Michael Taheri, one of Smith lawyers, says his client has always accepted full responsibility.
“She was what we call a shopaholic,” said Taheri. “It causes them to spend money that they don’t have. And I think when she realized it she got treatment for it.”
“You start spending and you’re like an alcoholic. You cannot control it,” he added.
Taheri says Smith has paid back about $60,000 so far, and that she’s in the process of selling her home to help with restitution.
“She wasn’t a mean person and she understood exactly when she apologized to Dr. Shatkin. She let him down. She was a good employee. A good bookkeeper. She had friends at that office,” Taheri said.
Despite the amount of money involved, Flynn says Smith did not live an extravagant lifestyle.
“She used the money for different small items, but again, over a five-year period we’re talking a lot of small items here to add up to a half million dollars,” he said.