A bookkeeper for the Steamship Authority who embezzled almost $145,000 over some eight years has been sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to make full restitution to the boat line.
Armine Estelle Sabatini was sentenced last Friday by chief U.S. District Court Judge Mark L. Wolf. She also will have to pay an additional $4,000 fine and be subject to three years’ parole after release from prison. Ms. Sabatini will report to prison at noon on Jan. 25, 2011, to begin her time.
From October 2001 until September 2009, Ms. Sabatini, who was then the Steamship Authority’s bookkeeper responsible for resolving customer credit card disputes and refunds, fraudulently processed 381 credit card refund transactions to 20 different credit cards she controlled.
Because the individual amounts were small — only a few hundred dollars each — the fraud long went unnoticed. It was only after another staff member noticed one suspicious transaction that an internal investigation began, revealing the long history of embezzlement, involving a total amount of $144,975. No SSA customers lost money.
In imposing the sentence, Judge Wolf recognized that Ms. Sabatini’s crimes were a serious and calculated betrayal of her position of trust. But he also acknowledged her difficult personal circumstances. For that reason the one-year term was on the low side.
SSA general counsel Steve Sayers said the U.S. Attorney’s office had called for 15 months, a period deemed appropriate according to sentencing guidelines for the offenses, which she acknowledged under a plea deal.
“She pleaded guilty only to several specific counts relating to the past several years, although she admitted she had embezzled $144,000-odd beginning in 2001,” Mr. Sayers said.
“The judge considered the defendant’s situation at home, which was not ideal, and the lack of support from her husband. From the bench he stated he took that into account. So she will serve a year.”
But Ms. Sabatini would be paying back the money long after that, Mr. Sayers said.
“She will pay back almost all of her pension benefit. She has already given a check to the U.S. attorney’s office, I believe, for around $19,000 or $20,000. So that’s a start, if not a great start.”
Upon her release, Ms. Sabatini will continue to make payments as determined by the probabtion office, in consideration of what she could afford in whatever employment she obtains.
If she has not made full restitution by the end of the 36-month supervision by the parole office, the U.S. attorney’s office will take over seeing that she continues to repay the money.
“The restitution order survives even after probabtion,” said Mr. Sayers.
“There was no definite period set for the repayment. I doubt she will be able to pay it all off in those 36 months, although I understand she has equity in her house.”
The SSA has made changes to its procedures for processing customer refunds as a consequence of Ms. Sabatini’s crime. Now refunds must be checked off by two employees.
In a statement announcing the conclusion of the case, the boat line thanked the Office of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Falmouth Police Department — in particular Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan M. DiSantis of the economic crimes unit, victim witness assistant Jessica Pooler, FBI Special Agent Charles J. Cabral Jr. and Falmouth Det. James M. Pires — for a swift investigation and prosecution.