BANGOR, Maine — The victim said he’d rather have his money back than see the defendant serve a long prison term.
The defendant sobbed that she was not a serial embezzler and her cocaine addiction was the reason she stole more than $400,000 from two businesses over a three-year period.
The judge called Cecelia White’s actions “a breach of trust between you and [the victims]” and sentenced her Tuesday to nine years in prison with all but 3½ years suspended.
“But it was greater than that,” Superior Court Judge John Nivison told White at her sentencing in Penobscot County Superior Court. “It was a breach of trust with everyone in society. It offends any reasonable person’s sense of decency and shows a complete lack of respect for the victims and their hard work.”
Nivison also sentenced White to four years of probation and ordered her to pay $367,000 to her two victims — Marilyn Lau, owner of the now closed Asian Palace restaurant in Bangor, and David Warren, a Surry forester.
White, who has married and changed her name to Cecilia Mason in the past year, worked in 2001 as bookkeeper for the Chinese restaurant that was located on Hogan Road. She worked in a similar capacity for Warren, a Hancock County forester, for 15 months in 2002 and 2003.
“This has been a very hard thing,” Warren, 69, told the judge Tuesday. “It’s been a pretty humiliating, degrading, debilitating thing to lose your livelihood.”
Warren said that he had two heart attacks after White’s theft was discovered in June 2003. He told Nivison that he had gone into the hospital thinking he had health insurance only to be released and find that it had been canceled because White had not paid the premium. He said that his wife’s health also had suffered and the couple had put off retirement indefinitely.
“We don’t care whether she goes to jail or not,” Warren said. “We work every day at this business because we have to. We need our money back, but we probably never will get it back.”
White, 44, of Exeter pleaded guilty last May in Hancock County Superior Court to two counts of Class B theft and one count of Class B negotiating a worthless instrument. The cases were combined for sentencing in Penobscot County.
White admitted that she stole more than $400,000 from the businesses. Her case has been delayed for nearly five years so that she could earn money to pay restitution. As of Tuesday, she had repaid about $23,500 to Lau and about $15,500 to Warren. The amount she was credited with paying Warren includes the $10,000 bail she posted when she was charged.
Lau, the former restaurant owner, did not attend the sentencing hearing Tuesday. Lau filed a civil suit against White in 2002 in Penobscot County Superior Court. The next year, a judgment was issued ordering White to repay Lau the more than $100,000 she stole.
White in March 2002 went to work for Warren, who had no knowledge of her history. White wrote more than 400 checks from the business to herself that she then cashed. The amount she admitted stealing from Warren totaled $308,000.
She was indicted on the criminal charges in February 2005 in Hancock County for the theft from Warren and in Penobscot County the same month for the Asian Palace theft and the bad-check charge. White pleaded guilty to the charges in December 2005, withdrew her pleas in March 2008, then pleaded guilty again in May 2008.
White faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000 on the theft charges and up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000 for writing fraudulent checks to a Dexter company. Under her plea agreement with prosecutors in both counties, the recommended sentence was nine years — with the amount suspended to be de-termined by the judge — and four years of probation.
Hancock County District Attorney Michael Povich and Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts for Penobscot County urged Nivison to sentence White to nine years with all but six years suspended. White’s attorney, Mandi Odier-Fink of Bangor, asked the judge to suspend all but six to 18 months of her client’s sentence.
Povich and Roberts described White as a serial embezzler who did not seem to care about the impact her actions have had on her victims.
White began embezzling from the Asian Palace when she started using cocaine regularly, Odier-Fink told Nivison. The defendant also was in an abusive marriage and has untreated mental health issues.
Over the past three years, the defense attorney said, White has been through drug rehab, has undergone counseling and is on medication for her mental health issues. The defendant also has paid $200 a month in restitution for the past year.
“I don’t know who that person is that [prosecutors] are talking about,” White told the judge through her sobs. “I’m so sorry for everything. I’ve tried as hard as I can to make up for it. I swear to God if given the opportunity I’ll pay the money back. It was never my intention to defraud somebody.”
After the sentencing, Warren said that the Legislature should license bookkeepers the same way they do foresters and other professionals.