“She did not get nearly the punishment she should have, in my opinion,” said East Hampton Village Police Chief Gerard Larsen yesterday.
The chief was speaking of the 30-day sentence handed down in county criminal court on Jan. 9 to Keri Dewhirst of Ronkonkoma. Judge James C. Hudson imposed the sentence after she pleaded guilty to embezzling close to half a million dollars from Schenck Fuels of East Hampton.
Ms. Dewhirst, 38, had been Schenck’s bookkeeper for six years when, in the fall of 2010, Chris Schenck and Rodney Herrlin, cousins and co-owners of the company, became suspicious.
Mr. Herrlin said yesterday that Mr. Schenck had been looking for a new car around that time, “and a couple of weeks later she rolled in” in a brand-new Mercedes, the very one he’d been yearning over in the showroom. After admiring the car, the cousins asked the bookkeeper what it had cost to lease it.
She wasn’t leasing, she said, she’d paid cash.
It was during the depths of the recession. “We’d been letting people go, trying to save some money,” Mr. Herrlin remembered. “But every time we let someone go we didn’t see any difference.”
The partners wondered, but “We had to trust somebody, and we trusted her,” he said — until Ms. Dewhirst drove her $75,000 car to work. Then they went to the police.
“We did a short investigation and determined she was stealing,” Chief Larsen said. Ms. Dewhirst was fired immediately and charged not long after with grand larceny. She pleaded guilty to the charge in October 2011.
Ms. Dewhirst, who is pregnant, has paid $60,000 in restitution up front and has agreed to pay the company $2,000 a month for the next five years. If she misses a payment, according to a court stipulation, she will go to jail for a minimum of five years, or as many as 15.
“She took a company that has been around since 1902 and nearly bankrupted them,” said Chief Larsen. “They are recouping $180,000 out of the $440,000, and we believe it probably was more.”
In this case, said the chief, it would appear that crime may indeed have paid.