Share this article

print logo

Another thief joins the million-dollar club

An Arcade woman joined an exclusive group of white-collar criminals Monday: the million-dollar-plus category for theft.

Debra A. Davis, 44, of Java Lake Road, tearfully admitted stealing $1.3 million from American Stainless Corp. in Buffalo, where she worked as a bookkeeper, by writing checks to take the money.

Davis became the sixth person prosecuted by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office in the past 25 years to be convicted of a theft of more than $1 million, prosecutors said. She is the third such offender to be prosecuted since Frank A. Sedita III became district attorney in 2009.

“A million is a real marker,” Sedita said. “Once you hit a million dollars, the punitive sanctions increase dramatically.”

Davis pleaded guilty to first-degree grand larceny, falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing. She faces up to 25 years in prison.

An executive for the company, a distributor of stainless steel, nickel, aluminum and other metals with offices at 1374 Clinton St., declined to comment on her guilty plea.

Sedita said Davis spent the stolen money on gambling and also to buy a company, named Triple Star Towing, for her husband.

“The company was named after her favorite slot machine,” Sedita said.

At her plea hearing, Davis hesitated when State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang asked Davis if she was guilty.

“I was doing my job,” Davis replied.

Did that mean taking money she was not entitled to? Wolfgang asked.

“There’s a lot more,” Davis said, looking ready to explain. But she pleaded guilty to the charges without offering additional information.

Davis pleaded guilty to the highest charge for which she could have been prosecuted.

During the hearing, prosecutors Candace K. Vogel and Gary M. Ertel said she wrote checks to herself and to cash between October 2010 and September 2012.

“We tell companies all the time, you should have a regular, independent audit done by an outside auditing agency,” Sedita said.

“Number one, if anyone’s stealing from you, they’ll catch it. Number two, it’s the best insurance they can buy because it has such a deterrent effect.”

One check mentioned in court – for $9,790 – was for paying Erie County taxes.

But a company record for the same check indicated it was for payment to a steel company.

“This was done to cover up a larceny,” Vogel said.

Prosecutors filed the “offering false instrument for filing” count because she did not report the stolen money on her 2011 state income tax return. She remains free on her own recognizance.

Wolfgang did not make Davis any promises about a sentence but indicated restitution, if any, would affect the sentence, scheduled for July 22. The five others whose thefts exceeded $1 million received jail time.

• Joseph V. Raymond, a medical supplies salesman from Orchard Park, in 2011 stole almost $1.8 million worth of implants and other surgical devices destined for Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital and cheated his employer. He’s the only one among the five sentenced offenders who made full restitution.

• Kenneth P. Bernas in 2011 was sentenced to 2-1/3 to 7 years in prison for swindling 53 law clients out of $3.1 million.

• Lee D. Burns, chief financial officer of Servotronics Inc., in 2006 was sentenced to 4½ to 13½ years in prison for corporate thefts amounting to almost $4 million. He has been released from prison.

• Accountant Edward J. Jarosz Jr. in 1993 became the first local person to plead guilty to a first-degree grand larceny charge, which covers thefts of at least $1 million. He was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison for stealing more than $1.5 million from a construction company.

• Anthony Franjoine, a comptroller, pleaded guilty in December 1991 to embezzling almost $1.5 million from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. He paid back all but $274,040 before being sentenced to 2-2/3 to eight years in prison.