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North Tonawanda liquor store owner gets probation in $215,000 theft from elderly aunt

Donald E. Gubbins owned and operated a liquor store in North Tonawanda.

When the business started losing money a few years ago, he made a bad decision. Instead of closing the store and trying to sell it, he started taking money from his elderly aunt’s bank account to keep the business going, prosecutors said.

Gubbins, 65, of Webster Street, North Tonawanda, stole $215,121 from Norma Gubbins’ account between Jan. 1, 2008, and Jan. 1, 2014, by abusing the power of attorney that his 87-year-old aunt had granted him.

His aunt, who had no children, was living in a nursing home in Erie County at the time. She died there about three weeks ago.

Gubbins pleaded guilty last year to second-degree grand larceny. On Tuesday, he was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to pay full restitution. As a condition of probation, State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski ordered Gubbins to sell the Webster Street building that housed his liquor store within a year. He also ordered him to sell a Niagara County condominium in which he has an ownership interest.

Proceeds from both sales will go toward restitution, the judge said, and any remaining balance must be paid. If not, Gubbins could face up to 15 years in prison, the judge warned.

Michalski ordered Gubbins to return to court in six months to report on the status of his efforts to sell the properties. He also ordered him to perform 100 hours of community service. The judge told Gubbins, who had no prior criminal record, that he was putting him on probation so he could work on paying back what he owes. “You made some bad choices,” Michalski said, adding that those choices brought shame on Gubbins, his family and his aunt.

Gubbins told the judge that he took full responsibility for what he did and that he felt badly for “dragging my family through this.” He said, “I was too stubborn to admit that the business was going down.”

His attorney, Herbert L. Greenman, said his client used the money to keep his business going, even though it was not making a profit. “He was too proud to close,” he said.

Greenman said Gubbins has been trying to sell the liquor store building and had two different buyers lined up. However, one offer to buy the property for $100,000 was delayed and lapsed, Greenman said, while the other fell through when the buyer died weeks before the sale could be completed.

Assistant District Attorney Candace K. Vogel said Gubbins has signed confessions of judgment for the $215,121 he stole.