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‘Underpaid’ ex-employee gets prison time for stealing nearly $500,000 from company

Bernadette Szymanski apparently didn’t think she made enough money at her job as the comptroller for Fppf Chemical in Buffalo.

“Overworked and underpaid,” is how she described herself, said Jane Lory, whose late husband founded the business. “She made $78,000 a year, and that’s all she ever said.”

That attitude also is what led to her employer finding out that she had embezzled close to half a million dollars over the years, according to prosecutors.

Szymanski, 61, reportedly was not only “correcting” what she considered a shortfall in her pay package, she also objected last year to her employer’s bereavement policy. Remarks made during that dispute led Jane Lory to look into what her trusted financial officer was doing with the company accounts.

Szymanski, who worked for Fppf for 24 years and had stolen from it for at least 13 of those years, prosecutor Christopher P. Jurusik said Monday. In May, she pleaded guilty to second degree grand larceny and two counts of filing a false instrument for not declaring her illicit income on her state tax returns, and on Monday Judge Kenneth F. Case ordered that she serve from 1 2/3 to five years in prison for the larceny and one year for each of the other counts, all to run concurrently.

Szymanski reportedly sold her Cheektowaga home to come up with $80,000 to pay some restitution to Jane Lory, the company’s insurer and the state. She told the judge before sentencing that she was sorry “for any hardship” she caused her employer, for any pain she caused Mrs. Lory and for the embarrassment she caused her family.

Those remarks were far different from Szymanski’s attitude when she was with the company, according to Lory and prosecutors.

That attitude apparently was reflected in the presentencing report presented to Case. “From what I can see, you felt you were asked to do work above and beyond your job title, and you took it upon yourself to compensate yourself for the work,” the judge said, calling her actions “appalling.”

Investigators found a pattern of embezzlement going back as least as far as January 2002 and continuing until November 2015. Szymanski was using Fppf credit cards for personal purchases on a regular basis, having the items sent to her home, and also to pad her paychecks.

The purchases included items “that would make you blush,” said Lory, who declined to elaborate, and the hiring of a “spiritual adviser,” among many other things. In a statement to the court, she also said that the cost to her company likely was far more than the $491,893 they were able to document.

“We know the total is much higher, as many, many amounts charged could not be proven,” Lory said. “Those charges are a complete loss to my company.”

An entire year of payroll records, from April 2004 to March 2005, remains missing, Lory said, and the legal and financial bills to uncover the thefts so far total $90,000.

She also pointed out that Szymanski was a “shoddy” bookkeeper, who paid sales tax to vendors on materials that weren’t taxable – to the tune of $60,000 in one case. She also said Szymanski also used company funds to repay a loan another employee took out from her 401(k) plan.

Lory spoke of her late husband, Christopher Lory, who spent 16 years in an Ohio orphanage before finding a place as an adult in the Merchant Marine. He learned about machinery and worked construction, and by the time he was about 50 years old he started his own chemical business – selling fuel additives out of the back of his Ford Pinto before going on to become a national supplier and a local real estate investor.

“He worked hard for it,” Jane Lory said of her late husband. “He was a wonderful man.”

When Chris Lory died in 2003 at age 78, his wife, a former school teacher, took over Fppf Chemical.

Insurance covered much of the company’s documented loss, and Szymanski was repaying the rest with the proceeds from selling her home. However, for the judge that did not set everything right.

“I’m pleased that in this particular instance Fppf had an insurance policy to cover this,” he said, “but how sad to think this is what the world has come to – that you have to have employee theft insurance.”

email: mmiller@buffnews.com

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