William C. Lerner created a financial hardship for the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Cheektowaga when he took more than $114,000 from the business over a 4½-year period.
The theft by the former longtime director of the Genesee Street clinic meant it couldn’t hire more staff to provide emergency veterinary services to its clients and their pets, the president of the clinic’s board of directors told a judge Thursday.
The theft also created a lack of trust, Dr. Susan Wylegala said. “He lied to everyone,” she said.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio sentenced Lerner to five years’ probation but warned him that he could face prison time if he violates any of the conditions of probation.
The judge acknowledged the financial and emotional stress that Lerner’s actions caused the clinic and its employees.
But she noted that Lerner had no prior record and has lost his job and friends, strained his marriage and become a convicted felon after pleading guilty to second-degree grand larceny.
She added that he has made full restitution of the $114,703 he admitted stealing between Jan. 1, 2010 and June 30, 2014, although she told him that the money doesn’t begin to cover the emotional stress he caused.
Lerner, 55, of Alden, had worked at the clinic for 25 years, including the last 16 years as director. He earned $72,000 a year.
He admitted using the clinic’s credit card, which also had his name on it, for personal expenses such as gas and groceries. There was no indication he used the money for gambling or drugs, State Police investigators said.
At sentencing Thursday, Lerner apologized for his actions. “I lost so much, all because of a bad decision,” he told the judge.
His attorney, Richard Sherwood, said his client has a job at a cleaning service but is not making nearly as much money as he made at the clinic.
At the time Lerner pleaded guilty in March, Dr. Stephanie West said she uncovered “the inappropriate practices” after she was named the clinic’s first full-time hospital administrator last May.
She said she contacted the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and an investigation was begun.
At the same time, she said she took immediate steps to stop the theft without Lerner’s knowledge before he was fired last December.
West was hired as hospital administrator last year because the clinic, which moved two years ago from Amherst to its new facilities in Cheektowaga just east of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, was growing and needed a higher level of management.
Assistant District Attorney Candace K. Vogel prosecuted the case, with the assistance of the State Police Special Investigations Unit under the direction of Maj. Thomas G. Marmion.