A former financial director for an American Red Cross chapter in New York was sentenced Wednesday to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison for embezzling more than $274,000 from the organization.
"The bottom line is she stole money that was donated to the American Red Cross to help victims of disasters," said Red Cross spokesman Sam Kille. "So we're very glad that justice has finally been served."
Deborah Leggio, 50, pleaded guilty more than a year ago to grand larceny and using a false instrument for filing. Her sentencing was delayed to give her a chance to make restitution but she has only paid back $9,500, said Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Ming Liu Parson.
"We were rather shocked in the end to find so little a sum was provided by her," said Parson, who had requested the maximum sentence of 3 to 9 years in prison. Under the plea deal, Leggio could have received as little as a year in jail had she made a greater dent in the restitution she owed.
"I am truly sorry," Leggio said before she was sentenced by state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro. "I know I betrayed a trust."
Leggio added, "I am just filled with shame, remorse and guilt."
She was immediately placed in handcuffs and led from the courtroom after receiving her sentence.
Leggio's lawyer, Peter Brill, pleaded to keep her out of jail so she could keep trying to pay restitution. Leggio, who moved from Coram, N.Y., to California in 2010, earned about $75,000 last year for a non-profit that helps low income people develop job skills, Brill said.
He argued that his client made an earnest attempt to repay more, but lamented that the high cost of living in northern California limited her ability to pay more restitution over the past year.
The thefts from the Red Cross' Suffolk County chapter occurred between 2005 and 2009.
Leggio admitted using the chapter's debit card to make ATM withdrawals, sometimes as often as every couple of days.
"She was a signatory to the operating account, and without permission or authority, she obtained an ATM debit card in her name linked to the account," District Attorney Thomas Spota said in a statement. She used the money for personal items like clothing, nail treatments, a Weight Watchers membership and her children's tuition.
Kille said an audit uncovered the missing funds in 2010.
"We rely on the trust of the public to do what we do and this was a slap in the face of that trust," the Red Cross spokesman said.
In addition to her debt to the Red Cross, Leggio owes $22,000 in New York state taxes.
"She spent this money for no good reason whatsoever," her attorney said.