A 61-year-old Cumming woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing nearly $41,000 from her employer to feed an online gambling habit.
Karalee Sciukas will serve one year in prison and 14 years on probation for six counts of theft by taking according to her negotiated plea, which was announced in Forsyth County Superior Court.
Formerly a controller for Engineered Architectural Systems in south Forsyth, Sciukas was arrested in March 2011 after the business discovered the thefts and contacted authorities.
Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Scalia said it’s believed Sciukas took about $196,000 from 2006 to ’10.
However, the state’s statute of limitations shortened the time period for which Sciukas was indicted in the thefts, totaling $40,800 from September 2008 to April 2010, Scalia said.
Sciukas explained that she took the money by writing checks from EAS accounts to herself or to pay off her debts.
“I unfortunately got very involved in online poker,” she said. “Basically, I had pretty much a gambling problem … and ran up a lot of bills.”
When the company discovered the thefts, Sciukas wrote a letter of apology and a check for $25,000, which she figured would cover the funds she had taken.
“I never thought it was that large,” she said. “I lost all sense of reality.”
Sciukas said she hid her problem from her husband and adult children. She teared up in court as she talked about the harm that she’d done to her family.
An owner of EAS, Peter DeSantis said company officials also were shocked at the extent of the thefts.
The embezzlement caused financial difficulties for the business, DeSantis said, but also “collateral damage” to several employees who were laid off or had their hours reduced.
The owners had initially attributed the company’s weakening financial picture to the struggling economy.
“We seriously considered closing the company in 2010,” DeSantis said. “I believe if we had that extra money, we could have gone through this period.”
Sciukas paid the remaining $15,800 owed for the criminal case on Wednesday, but the company also has a pending civil suit in which it aims to recoup the additional funds and punitive damages.
Parker McFarland, Sciukas’ attorney, emphasized her cooperation with the investigation and the court proceedings as he asked for the ability to serve her sentence under the First Offender Act.
The provision allows the conviction to be removed from criminal history upon successful completion of probation.
Scalia countered that the crime should remain on her record.
“Any employer that hires her in the future has a right to run her criminal history and know that she’s an embezzler, that she’s a thief,” Scalia said.
Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley agreed with the state as he sentenced Sciukas for what he called her “greedy, greedy and selfish actions.”
As a condition of her probation, Sciukas is prohibited from working in any fiduciary position.
She must also have no contact with EAS or its employees, pay a $2,000 fine and complete 120 hours of community service.