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Bookkeeper who stole $500,000 gets prison time

Justine Smith embezzled from her employer, an Amherst doctor, and got away with it for more than five years.

By the time she was caught, the 52-year old bookkeeper had walked away with $500,000.

Smith, a Buffalo resident, was sentenced Monday to two to six years in state prison and held up as yet another example of why employers need to watch the people watching their books.

“Protect your business by making sure there’s more than one person in charge of bookkeeping," Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said in a statement. "You need checks and balances inside your office.”

Between January of 2011 and October of last year, Smith used her role as a bookkeeper to falsify business and financial records in order to steal from Dr. Samuel Shatkin.

Prosecutors said Smith paid back $61, 599, and was ordered by state Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns to make restitution for the remaining amount.

“Embezzlers who violate the trust of their employer will pay dearly for their crimes,” Flynn said Monday.

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Smith, as part of a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny, falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing.

In February when she pleaded guilty, Smith explained the crime by saying she has compulsive buying disorder.

Her conviction, the result of a prosecution by Special Investigations and Prosecutions Chief Candace K. Vogel and an investigation by Amherst police, is the latest in a string of large-scale embezzlements in the Buffalo area.

Earlier this year, Billie B. Becker, the former comptroller of Towne Automotive Group admitted stealing $4.1 million from the company.

The multi-million loss was believed to be the largest single embezzlement in Erie County's history, and as he did Monday, Flynn used the case to warn employers about dishonest bookkeepers.

In the Towne Automtive case, he said it was "dumb luck" that led investigators to Becker.

She was caught, he said, because she was out of the office one day when one of the company's credit cards companies called with a question.

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