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Depew woman sentenced for stealing $90,000 from hockey club

A Depew woman who repaid the $90,000 she took from a youth hockey club and its donors to support her gambling addiction was sentenced today to weekends in jail for four months followed by five years’ probation and 500 hours of community service.

State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia told Teresa A. Fusani, former treasurer of the Depew Saints Hockey Club, that he had considered sentencing her to a longer jail term, but he cited several factors that led him to impose a shorter term at the Erie County Correctional Facility.

He said he was especially affected by a letter from a Depew swimming pool and spa company that is aware of Fusani’s grand larceny conviction but has offered her a job.

He also cited letters he received from her three children on her behalf, including one from her oldest son, Michael, who is a member of the Depew School Board.

The judge also noted her work with Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, which her attorney, Joel Daniels, said has helped her with her gambling problem and may use her as a spokeswoman to persuade other people with a similar problem to stay away from casinos.

Buscaglia said he also took into consideration her husband Frank’s brain injury, which has prevented him from returning to his job as a lieutenant in the Depew Police Department for nearly two years.

“But that is no excuse for gambling away all this money,” he told her.

The judge said that while the hockey club did not recommend a jail sentence, “I feel some jail time is appropriate.”

Fusani, 49, of Canton Street, pleaded guilty in November to second-degree grand larceny. She admitted that between July 2006 and January 2010, she embezzled money from the hockey club while serving as its treasurer.

Assistant District Attorney Brian P. Dassero said Fusani oversaw a legitimate hockey club bank account through HSBC Bank but also had another account at M&T Bank, with a similar name, which no one else knew about.

Fusani also admitted that after leaving her position as club treasurer, she sent letters to several Depew-area businesses requesting donations for the club from January 2010 to last April and kept the money to support her gambling habit.

She had faced a maximum prison term of five to 15 years.

Daniels, her attorney, said Fusani is among a growing number of people in the Buffalo area addicted to gambling at local casinos.

“It’s the lure of electronic slots,” he told the judge. “Once they catch you, it’s difficult for some to walk away.”

He noted today’s front page story in The Buffalo News on the rising gambling problem among older people who spend their retirement money on slots and casinos. “It’s a problem I’m afraid we’ll be facing for quite some time,” he said.

Fusani apologized “to all the families who trusted me and who I let down.”

She accepted responsibility for her actions, admitting she made the choice to gamble. She also cited her decision to make full restitution to those she deceived.