HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former bookkeeper who embezzled more than $1.3 million from a Maui plant nursery, nearly bankrupting the business.
Thelma Pascua-Suyat, 64, worked at Ki-Hana Nursery in Kihei for about 12 years.
Under a deal with prosecutors, she pleaded guilty to wire fraud in May.
When the business started to struggle financially the owner thought the problem was due to the 2008 recession.
“She took the money to do her own stuff; go on trips, travel places everywhere, going out to $1,000 dinners, buying $800 Louis Vuitton bags,” said nursery owner Louis Scott Walsh.
Pascua-Suyat admitted to falsifying records to cover up using the company’s funds to make mortgage payments on her then-husband’s home as well as credit card payments for both of them.
Walsh can’t afford to retire now because he had to sell a condo to put money back into the business.
The crime also impacted his brother and business partner, Steve, who ended up dying of pancreatic cancer.
Their life insurance policy through the company lapsed due to a lack of funds, depriving his widow of $2 million.
“(Pascua-Suyat) just kept stealing and stealing and stealing even when she knew he had cancer and he needed money to help him with treatments,” said Walsh.
“I took advantage of their trust and leniency. I know I was wrong and I will carry this knowledge for the rest of my life,” Pascua-Suyat told the court before she was sentenced.
The judge ordered her to spend three years and seven months in prison, which will be followed by three years of supervised release.
“I think it should have been longer, definitely, for what she did,” said Walsh.
“The loss of sleep, the stress is just unbearable. I’m still under a lot of stress, just worrying about the business all the time. Are we going to make it or not?”
The sentence also includes mandatory restitution of $1,167,895.
Pascua-Suyat is expected to turn herself in to begin her sentence on November 12.