Gail Tachok, a former City Honors School art teacher and senior class adviser, was sentenced Tuesday to six months in jail for stealing $35,328 from student accounts set up to fund field trips, yearbooks, T-shirts and other activities.
"Your criminal activity was not just a spur-of-the-moment, onetime affair," said State Supreme Court Justice Joseph S. Forma, who imposed the sentence. "It's been three years of deliberate cunning."
Forma said that the Orchard Park resident used the proceeds to pay off a $200,000 motor home she purchased in 2003 and, in the process, robbed her students of trust and idealism.
He noted a letter he received from a City Honors student saying that Tachok "stole more than Martha Stewart."
Tachok, 55, faced a possible prison term of up to seven years on guilty pleas to two counts of grand larceny. She also admitted stealing $57,000 from First Niagara Bank through a check-kiting scheme.
Forma said he imposed a shorter sentence because Tachok has no prior criminal convictions and paid back all the money she stole in addition to $10,000 it cost the city school district to audit the missing funds.
The judge also placed Tachok on probation for five years and ordered that she be held on suicide watch while at the Erie County Correctional Facility.
"In my view, you're a sad, pathetic and broken figure," Forma told Tachok, who attempted suicide on several occasions. "You are probably at the bottom of the barrel, emotionally and physically."
Tachok, a school district employee for 33 years and a City Honors teacher for 21 years, lost her job as a result of the theft. She also was a shop steward for the Buffalo Teachers Federation.
"I have no idea what I did," she told the judge in presentencing comments. "I screwed things up so badly. The worst thing was losing the respect of my husband, my students and losing my job."
Tachok had "an otherwise exemplary career" and "does not have a clear understanding even in her own mind about why this happened," said K. Michael Sawicki, her attorney.
"She is tortured by the fact that she did this," he said. "She has created her own hell and punishment over this."