New Paltz embezzler gets 4-1/3 to 13 years in prison
KINGSTON — A woman who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the law firm where she worked as a secretary was sentenced on Tuesday to as much as 13 years in prison and was ordered to pay more than $600,000 to her victims.
Mary J. Merten pleaded for leniency before the sentence was handed down, saying she never meant to hurt her employers and just “got lost in this world.”
Merten, 44, of Springtown Road, New Paltz, pleaded guilty earlier this year to embezzling nearly $700,000 from the Kingston law firm of Riseley and Moriello, where she was employed as a confidential secretary. On Tuesday, acting Ulster County Judge Anthony McGinty sentenced Merten to 4-1/3 to 13 years in state prison for felony grand larceny. She also was sentenced to two to six years behind bars for each of three counts of felony aggravated identity theft. The sentences will run concurrently.
Merten also was ordered to pay her victims $625,000 in restitution, an amount agreed to during a restitution hearing earlier Tuesday. The judge also issued orders of protection to three of the victims of the embezzlement and ordered Merten to pay $375 in fines and surcharges.
The thefts, which occurred between 2002 and 2009, involved Merten stealing money from the law firm’s checking accounts, the accounts of the firm’s partners and the firm’s trust account, according to Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright. He said Merten also stole from the college savings account of the daughter of one of the firm’s partners and also opened credit cards in the partner’s names.
BEFORE being sentenced on Tuesday, Merten said she was wrong to steal from her employers, Michael Moriello and Richard Riseley. She also said she loved her employers like family and tried to apologize to them when she realized how bad things had gotten.
“I got lost in this world,” Merten said.
She also said she had some mental health problems and that her husband, William, had suffered a bad heart attack, though she stressed she was not trying to make excuses.
MERTEN admitted she was a criminal but said she was not a hardened one, and she asked the judge for leniency. She said putting her in prison might help heal the hurt of the victims but would hurt her 12-year-old daughter. Merten also pointed to the fact she had no prior convictions.
McGinty said he considered the statements made in court and the letters of support from Merten’s family and friends but that he also weighed the victims’ statements and Merten’s course of conduct over many years. The judge noted to Merten that she forced one of the victims out of a well-earned retirement and stole from a child’s college savings. Continued...
“And worst of all, you have betrayed the trust of your employers and friends,” McGinty said, adding that even if Merten pays the full restitution, the victims will never be whole.
MORIELLO said Merten was “a person I treated like family” but that her actions forced him to borrow significant amounts of money from his parents and liquidate stock. He also said his credit rating fell sharply, his 2008 tax payments were never made, and he was forced to spend hundreds of hours away from his family.
Moriello said he expects to be dealing with the fallout from Merten’s actions for years to come and that the embezzlement irrevocably affected his partner, Riseley.
Nancy Riseley, Richard Riseley’s wife, said Merten “literally robbed my husband of his ability to practice law.” She said her husband had been in poor health, and then Merten robbed him of $350,000 he had been saving for retirement.
Mrs. Riseley also said the theft forced her to go back to work full-time in her own law practice, even though she will turn 67 next month.
CARNRIGHT said $374,625 of the restitution will be paid to Moriello and $250,375 will go to Riseley.
The prosecutor said Merten’s “fraud scheme was as simple as it was effective.” He said Merten would write checks to herself and then submit pay stubs, with the names of false payees, to the law firm’s bookkeeper. He said the only reason Merten was caught was because a credit card notification for one of the fraudulent accounts made its way to Riseley before she could reroute or intercept it.
Carnright said he believes if Merten had not been caught, she still would be committing the thefts.
DEFENSE attorney Jeremiah Flaherty described his client as a hard worker who “deluded herself into believing she could loan money and someday pay it back.”
He also said Merten did not make any lifestyle changes with the money she took and is living with her family in her mother’s basement. Continued...
NANCY Riseley said a civil suit against Mary and William Merten, their daughter Catherine Swift, and a friend, Anthony Russo, is pending in state Supreme Court.
She said the suit seeks damages and the recovery of the stolen money.
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