By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
At 65, Jeanne M. Zacherl is at the age where she should be contemplating retirement, said her attorney Robert R. Leight.
Instead, Zacherl walked out of a courtroom Wednesday in handcuffs, the result of a gambling addiction that led her to embezzle more than $1 million from her employer.
“This is a very sad case,” Leight said.
Albert R. Puntureri, the owner of the aggrieved company, Interstate Chemical of Hermitage, wasn’t won over by Leight’s description of the heath problems of Zacherl and her husband, her seeking counseling for her addiction or his depiction of her finances as being modest. He wanted his pound of flesh.
Some of the money Zacherl stole would have been passed onto employees as pay raises, Puntureri said.
“Everyone at the company has been affected by it,” he said. “Just turmoil at the company because of it.”
Puntureri asked for the maximum sentence, 3 1/2 to 7 years for the third-degree felony charge of theft she pleaded guilty to Aug. 6.
Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas R. Dobson didn’t go that far, but imposed a state prison term of 1 to 5 years. Since she has no criminal history, she qualifies for a good-time program and Dobson said she could serve as little as 9 months. State Board of Probation and Parole will determine when she is released.
“This is the largest theft I have ever had before me,” Dobson said. “You deserve penitentiary time. To do less would minimize the thing.”
Zacherl’s family members gasped when Dobson ordered the prison term.
Zacherl’s crime caused the same type of damage as someone breaking into a house, and her gambling addiction is no different from someone addicted to alcohol or drugs, Dobson said.
“You’re hurting people you know, who love and care for you,” Dobson said. “That says something about your character.”
Zacherl, of 1272 Mercer West Middlesex Road, East Lackawannock Township, apologized to Interstate Chemical and Puntureri.
“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” said the mother of two and grandmother of six. “I hurt my family. I lost co-workers, friends. They were like family to me.”
She said she knows the amount of money she stole is “a lot.”
“I will try to pay it back,” she said.
Can someone pay back that amount of money?
“I doubt that there’s any way to pay that back in her lifetime,” said Assistant District Attorney Daniel Davis.
Puntureri is going to try to make her, but he didn’t get a lot of help Wednesday.
He was hoping her assets could be seized, but Davis said the criminal system for restitution doesn’t work that way. Zacherl enters a payment plan with the county and makes monthly payments.
Davis said Puntureri would have to use civil laws if he wanted to try to seize her bank accounts or her double-wide mobile home.
Leight said Zacherl had used up all of her family funds.
Zacherl stole $1,126,763 by creating fictitious vendor accounts and transferring money into them, and then her personal checking account, between October 2008 and September 2012, Hermitage police said.
She was a 22-year-veteran of the company, last working as accounts payable manager.
Her husband, Daniel J., was fired by the company after 27 years as a truck driver. The couple has denied that he had any knowledge of his wife’s dealings, while the company claims in a civil suit that he “consented to and acquiesced in” her crimes. Puntureri said Daniel drove her to Mountaineer Casino, Race Track and Resort, Chester, W.Va., where she lost the fortune on $10 slots.