Day after day, forging one check after another, Jennifer Dziadosz stole $389,156 from the Clarence manufacturing company where she kept the books.
It was more than a theft of money. It was a theft of friendship and trust.
Mrs. Dziadosz seemed a close friend of the man and woman who ran the company. She even invited her boss to stand up in her wedding -- a 1993 gala with a reception at the Heartstone Manor that cost an eye-popping $50,000.
"It was an extravagant, beautiful wedding," the Clarence businesswoman recalled. "We wondered how Jen could afford it. She had a $10,000 ring, and she was a part-time bookkeeper making $8 an hour. . . You can imagine how we felt later when we learned it was all paid for with money she stole from us."
After state police caught her in 1995, Mrs. Dziadosz confessed and went to prison for six months. She repaid $55,000 and promised a judge she would work hard the rest of her life to repay the rest.
But now, she and her husband, Chester, say they're broke.
They recently filed for bankruptcy, and her former bosses feel betrayed again. They say Mrs. Dziadosz is now using bankruptcy to hide her assets and avoid paying the money she stole.
Mrs. Dziadosz, a Depew resident who now decorates cakes for a living, said in court papers that she and her husband can no longer afford to pay their bills, including $63,000 in credit-card debts.
Their bankruptcy papers failed to mention that Mrs. Dziadosz still owes more than $330,000 to her former employers, and that she is under orders from a state judge to pay it. The couple also failed to list among her possessions three diamond rings that Mrs. Dziadosz bought with $15,000 in stolen money.
"How can a person who stole (almost) $400,000 go into the Bankruptcy Court and say she's broke? We'd like to know," said Gordon Gannon Jr., attorney for the Clarence business.
Since her release from prison last year, Mrs. Dziadosz has paid back about $1,000 of the $330,000 she still owes, Gannon said.
"I don't think Bankruptcy Court was made to protect a thief," said the Clarence businesswoman, who spoke on the condition that she and her company not be named. "I can't believe they even let her file (bankruptcy). She ran up this big debt on credit cards. We found out she bought herself a hot tub with credit cards."
Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan asked the same question at a hearing.
The judge told Mrs. Dziadosz he might dismiss the bankruptcy because the couple didn't list all their debts or possessions. He told Mrs. Dziadosz she cannot use bankruptcy to avoid repaying the money she stole.
The inaccuracies in her bankruptcy petition were honest mistakes, caused by missed communications with her lawyer, Mrs. Dziadosz testified. She said she never intended to cheat the bankruptcy system. She said she has turned her life around and is trying to repay the money she stole.
What happened to the stolen $389,156, plus the $63,000 in credit card spending? Kaplan asked.
It was spent on the wedding, a new van purchased several years ago, car repairs, home improvements, day care for her children and day-to-day living expenses, Mrs. Dziadosz said.
That still doesn't explain where all the money went, Kaplan said.
It's all spent, Mrs. Dziadosz swore from the witness stand. She denied that the stolen cash is stashed somewhere. She added that she and her family are barely scraping by.
"They are not trying to defraud the court, and they are not trying to discharge the debt they owe to Mrs. Dziadosz's former employer," said Barry Sternberg, attorney for the couple.
Kaplan decided to allow the couple to continue their bankruptcy case, as long as they submit revised court papers, accurately listing all debts and possessions. No missed communications this time, the judge warned. Kaplan ordered Mrs. Dziadosz to give the $15,000 in jewelry to her former bosses.
"It looks now that she'll be excused from that $63,000 in credit-card debt, and if the judge hadn't started asking questions, she might have been excused from the debt to my client," Gannon said.
But Mrs. Dziadosz's thefts hurt more people than just her employer. The loss in profits also affected salaries and bonuses for the company's 19 employees.
"We're a small company," the businesswoman said. "This hurts."