AP NEWS

Stamford church secretary who stole $21K paying money back

March 29, 2019

STAMFORD — A Stamford woman who stole more than $21,000 from her former Selleck Street church will avoid prison and have her record expunged if she can come up with the rest of the money to pay restitution.

Yesenia Gonzalez, 39, pleaded guilty to a felony count of first-degree larceny before Judge John Blawie at the Stamford courthouse Friday, but will have the conviction vacated if she returns to the courthouse in July with $4,000.

With the $6,500 the former church secretary brought to court with her on Friday, on top of the $8,000 seized from her account when she was arrested for stealing the money from the Iglesia Apostolica Renovacion Emmanuel Church in 2016, Gonzalez is well on her way to paying back the money, her attorney Rob Serafinowicz said.

If she can pay up in July, Blawie said he would put her into the Accelerated Rehabilitation program for first-time offenders and she will be given another two years to come up with the remaining $3,000 she owes. Also, if she can stay in the probationary program without getting into any more trouble and pay the debt, her criminal record will be wiped away.

But, Blawie warned her that with her guilty plea to the larceny charge, she could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison if she does not meet her end of the bargain.

“I think this is a fair disposition under the circumstances,” Serafinowicz said. “If she did not take this money, her kids would have been out on the street. This wasn’t a crime of opportunity, it was a crime of desperation.”

Serafinowicz said the time when Gonzalez took the money from her church was not good for a lot of people.

“She did not have a criminal record before this arrest and she was a normal person. And then the bad times hit and like a lot of people, she found herself doing things she never thought she would,” he said.

The thefts occurred about a year and a half after Gonzalez stopped working as a secretary at Iglesia Apostolica Renovacion Emmanuel Church.

A church board member reported to police in April 2016 that $21,700 had been stolen from a church bank account between early January and late March of the same year.

Police obtained the church’s banking records and determined 28 wire transfers ranging from $300 to $3,000 were sent to a Florida account that belonged to Gonzalez, her arrest affidavit said. As the church’s secretary, Gonzalez had signature authority for the account.

Church officials had previously requested the bank to take Gonzalez off the account, according to court records. The bank never took her off the account, but agreed to reimburse the church for the amount of money stolen.

jnickerson@stamfordadvocate.com