MOUNT VERNON — The former development director of the Island Hospital Foundation was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for embezzling thousands of dollars from the fundraising organization between 2011 and 2014.
Bernadette Kathleen Stanek, 42, pleaded guilty Dec. 4 in Skagit County Superior Court to four counts of first-degree theft and five counts of forgery, all felonies.
Judge Michael Rickert ordered Stanek to pay $140,000 in restitution to the foundation after she is released from prison. The amount was agreed to by the prosecution and the defense.
Stanek tearfully apologized in court Friday.
She acknowledged that her offenses caused pain and broke the trust that her colleagues and the community placed in her. She said she hopes that admitting guilt and serving time in prison shows her remorse.
“That’s the only way I can show how sorry I am,” Stanek said before she was sentenced.
Stanek was the foundation’s development director from 2011 to August 2014. She was fired when the Anacortes Police Department began investigating what the foundation’s board of directors and Island Hospital administrators believed was a yearslong pattern of Stanek misusing the foundation’s credit cards.
Police arrested Stanek on Sept. 26, 2014, after prosecutors charged her with 17 felonies, including four counts of first-degree theft and 13 counts of forgery. A number of the charges were later dismissed in exchange for her guilty plea.
Investigators believe Stanek’s theft of money began small, but quickly grew.
Between 2011 and 2014, prosecutors allege Stanek spent about $300,000 of foundation money on personal expenses, including food, clothing, beauty products and horse accessories, according to court documents.
Stanek was accused of using foundation credit cards to make personal purchases, then forging signatures of foundation board members on foundation checks to pay the bills, court documents state. Prosecutors say Stanek also presented altered financial reports to the board to hide her crimes.
The theft was discovered in August 2014 after a credit card bill from an account the foundation no longer used was sent to the foundation office and opened by the foundation’s only other employee, a development associate. Stanek typically handled the bills herself.
The associate saw numerous personal purchases, including at businesses such as Victoria’s Secret, Merry Maids and The Olive Garden, totaling about $5,000, court documents state.
Defense lawyer Wesley Richards said in court Friday that Stanek began using the foundation’s credit cards to cover personal expenses she felt she had no other way to pay, including money for gas and food, but that as the thefts continued they spun out of control.
Richards said during the time the thefts occurred, Stanek was a single mother struggling to support her three children in the aftermath of a messy divorce.
“She unfortunately came to rely on the funds she was embezzling from the foundation to support herself and her children,” Richards said.
Judge Rickert said cases involving financial fraud can sometimes be more difficult and traumatic than cases involving violent crime, because the number of victims in financial crimes is often much greater.
The judge told Stanek he believes she probably didn’t realize how much money she had stolen as the credit card charges began adding up, but that in the end her crime was “an indescribable sin toward the hospital and the community in general.”
Rickert noted statements filed by Island Hospital officials in court, reporting contributions to the foundation have fallen by 55 percent since Stanek was charged.
“The amount of money that you took from the foundation continues to be felt,” Rickert told Stanek before sentencing. “It is a devastating crime and it does obviously warrant a penitentiary sentence, even as a property crime.”
The nonprofit Island Hospital Foundation is not a department of Island Hospital, but provides funding and support for the facility.
After the thefts were discovered in 2014, the foundation released a statement saying it would hire an accounting firm to take over management of its money and that new protections against financial misappropriations would be put into place.
Prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula said in court Friday that the foundation has recouped much of the missing money through insurance. The prosecutor said the $140,000 in restitution includes money to pay for the hospital foundation’s legal fees, the cost of a forensic accounting investigation and an insurance policy deductible.
Kaholokula said she believes the prison sentence and restitution are appropriate for the offenses, but acknowledged the money Stanek is ordered to pay back does not equal the amount she is believed to have stolen.
The restitution amount was agreed to in hopes that the hospital foundation can continue to recoup money from insurance, and that money already paid back through insurance won’t be in jeopardy, Kaholokula said.
“This is the best we can do to try to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Kaholokula said.