A 62-year-old Huntington Beach woman who was sentenced Monday to more than five years in federal prison for embezzling nearly $3.5 million from her employer over two decades told the judge who punished her that she was glad she got caught.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, Patricia A. Francisco also explained how she got away with stealing from California Cartage of Long Beach for years and why she did it.

Federal prosecutors said in court papers that the bookkeeper, who pleaded guilty last August, was just plain greedy and desired a “more luxurious lifestyle.”

While admitting she had no “excuses or rationalizations,” the defendant said the stealing began when her in-laws were ailing and fell into a “financial bind.” Francisco said she wanted to help them because they had been “like the parents I’d hoped for.”

Francisco said she had noticed “false expense reports go through the system” at work often and decided she could get away with stealing, adding that she was “emotionally a little unhinged” seeing her in-laws dying.

“I told myself that it would be just until they were through the stumble, but once I saw how easy it was to steal, to lie, and to walk way unscathed, it became impossible to resist whenever adversity cropped up, and eventually for more petty reasons,” Francisco wrote.

Then the defendant’s marriage began to crumble and she felt “lonelier, and lonelier” as her husband was “at the track five nights a week.” Shopping was a refuge that provided the “thrill of the purchase,” she wrote.

“Once I got home, the items already felt tarnished and lackluster,” Francisco said, prompting her to go shopping again to “fill the void I had in my heart.”

Francisco said she gave it all away to friends, family, and co-workers.

When they became, at times, incredulous, the defendant said she was able to buffalo them about where the money came from, claiming to sell goods to afford gifts.

When she got fired from her job, her family was “up in arms about it,” leading her to confess her sins.

“It was too shameful to tell them the truth,” she wrote. “But, I did tell them all the truth, and (I) watched as their eyes filled with tears, as every shred of respect and admiration for me drained from their bodies, and when all was done, they were still sitting across from me.”

Francisco said she has “ruined” the lives of her family, “but they are still here, and I know I have made the right choice,” adding, “Ultimately, I’m glad that I was caught. I needed to be caught.”

The company’s president, Robert A. Curry, also wrote a letter to the judge, in which he decried what his longtime worker had done. Francisco worked for Curry’s family-owned company for 29 years, and she was considered “part of our management family,” he said.

“There were many years during the time that she was stealing money that the company was actually struggling to survive,” Curry wrote. “She was well aware of the financial hardships the company was facing, yet she continued to steal money in a highly sophisticated scheme.

“Employees worked long hours during the 1990s when the fate of the company was in the balance. Her fraud was done with malice to her fellow employees and to my family without regard for anything or anybody except herself.”

Francisco spent $300,000 of the stolen money to make down payments on her house and on a condominium, to buy a $40,000 Cadillac Escalade and about $100,000 in jewelry and take multiple trips, according to prosecutors.

Carney ordered Francisco to pay nearly $3.5 million in restitution.

City News Service

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