Rebecca Sigeti, 61, will serve six years in prison followed by seven years of supervised probation for embezzling $841,000.
Sigeti is the former bookkeeper for the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District (PSWID) and Sunny Mountain Realty.
Judge Tim Wright sentenced Sigeti May 20 after Sigeti pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and theft.
The attorney general’s office originally charged Sigeti with 40 counts, but she pleaded to four — fraudulent schemes, violation of duties of a custodian of public monies and two counts of theft.
An investigation by the auditor general found that between 2010 and 2016, Sigeti shifted money from Sunny Mountain Realty and the PSWID into her own account.
“To conceal her theft, the defendant manipulated QuickBooks by not recording fraudulent checks or inaccurately recording fraudulent checks with fake payees,” according to a press release from attorney general’s office.
Sigeti “used three (water) district accounts to embezzle and launder money. In total, Ms. Sigeti issued 32 unauthorized checks totaling $524,685” each of which had a forged board member’s signature, according to the pre-sentence report.
Sigeti then used her access to Sunny Mountain’s bank account to deposit PSWID checks.
“After district checks were deposited into the Sunny Mountain account, Sigeti withdrew $725,292 in total funds by forging 200 Sunny Mountain checks. This includes $408,922 in district funds and an additional $316,370 of Sunny Mountain funds,” according to the AG’s office.
“In totality, it was apparent Ms. Sigeti attempted to conceal her theft by altering or omitting information in the PSWID and Sunny Mountain paper and electronic records related to the unlawful checks she used,” according to the pre-sentence report.
Sigeti’s plea to avoid prison time proved futile.
In court, she apologized for violating the trust of “everybody.” She said she did it for her family, including her drug-addicted son, who ultimately died of an overdose. She also cared for her ailing husband and father.
Representatives from Sunny Mountain and the PSWID spoke in court. Others wrote letters.
James Lewin worked for Dianne Mitchell, the owner of Sunny Mountain Realty. In court, he said that Mitchell, “one of the sweetest, kindest most generous” people “was unfortunately severely taken advantage of. The heartbreak of this and the stress of dealing with the whole situation rapidly (and) greatly contributed to the rapid deterioration of Dianne Mitchell’s health and her ultimate passing,” he said.
In a letter to the court, Mitchell’s son Brad, wrote that his mother’s “relationship (with Sigeti) was not just business, it was also personal.”
“Ms. Sigeti attended many social functions at my mother’s home, and often just came over to visit,” he said.
Robert Arbuthnot, chair of the PSWID, said that since the water district has 3,200 meters, “there’s probably 6,400 victims, if you want to say there’s two people per water meter. The community is intensely interested in the outcome of these proceedings. We would like to see justice done,” he said.
In a letter to the court, PSWID customer Pam Mason expressed outrage that Sigeti put the water district’s finances at risk.
“Rebecca Sigeti was well aware that PSWID finances were tight way back in 2010, yet she continued to rob the district and taxpayers until she was caught and finally charged towards the end of 2017,” wrote Mason. “In the meantime, our water rates increased to help with the PSWID bottom line and presumably some needed repairs to the water system did not happen due to low finances.”
Many of the letters from Sigeti’s family were not included in the record.
Sigeti’s lawyer, Anna Ortiz, asked Wright to waive a prison term.
She said Sigeti took the money to help her family.
“She was under unusual duress,” said Ortiz. “If you’ve read the letter from her family ... you will understand the issues she was facing — a father coming out of a lengthy prison sentence with nowhere to go ... she took him in ... she took care of her drug addicted son and his family ... she took care of her elderly mother ... her husband became seriously ill ... to the point he can barely walk now without a walker ... she felt she needed to do something to be able to support and take care of everyone ... we are asking the mercy and understanding of the court, to give Ms. Sigeti the least possible sentence. Any sentence you give a person of her age, I think has more impact than a sentence you give a younger person.”
Ortiz said Sigeti paid Sunny Mountain back with her IRA funds.
Assistant Attorney General Mary Harriss disagreed.
“I would like to address a couple of what I believe are factual inaccuracies with what (Ortiz) said. (Sigeti) did not admit to this crime up front. When she was interviewed she declined to answer any questions about her involvement in that,” said Harriss. “Additionally, she paid back no money to Sunny Mountain or anyone else.”
Sigeti apologized to the residents of Pine and Strawberry and Mitchell.
“I violated the trust of everyone involved. I did it for my family,” she said. “I’d like the opportunity to be able to be productive and to be able to pay them back.
I’ll do everything in my power to be able to do that ... and I don’t think I can do that if I’m incarcerated.”
Wright said after Sigeti serves her prison term, she will pay back $524,685 to the PSWID and $316,370 to Sunny Mountain Realty.