Baierl Acura controller who embezzled $10.2 million sentenced

Accustomed to traveling in style at her former employer's unwitting expense, Patricia K. Smith will settle down for the next six and a half years years on the federal government's tab.

Ms. Smith, 58, of Cranberry, fraudulently transferred $10.3 million from Baierl Acura's accounts to her own. She used the money to finance a spree of frivolity and generosity equal to the length of her prison sentence.

She said today that she did it all for love.

"For many years, I did not like myself much," Ms. Smith told U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond at her sentencing hearing. "I've always thought of myself as a horrible daughter, mother, wife and friend."

She spent the money on friends and family, she said.

"I wanted to earn their love, and I wanted to see what happiness really looked like," she said.

Ms. Smith worked at the Pine car dealership beginning in 1993, serving as the financial controller. From late 2004 through mid-2011 she padded her $53,000-a-year salary with upwards of $25,000 a week that she embezzled.

The sentence is at the top of the range called for in federal guidelines for wire fraud of above $10 million by a first-time criminal who pleads guilty.

Ms. Smith's attorney, Tina Miller, had wanted the court to go lower because the former controller helped the government to identify and recover around $1 million in houses, cars, jewelry and other items that she had or gave to friends and family.

Judge Diamond didn't think Ms. Smith deserved leniency.

"This is just mind-boggling, the nature of this crime, and the purposes for which the money was spent," the judge said.

She spent "$43,000 for a hotel in Paris, France," he said, "$1.8 million billed to her American Express account for private jet fare ... $62,500 for six club-level Super Bowl tickets, and it goes on and on and on."

He ordered Ms. Smith to repay Baierl $10.3 million from her prison and post-release earnings, forfeit a pages-long list of items to the government, and spend three years on federal probation after her term ends.

She has until mid-July to report to prison.

Around a dozen supporters of Ms. Smith attended, including two who spoke of her kindness.

About a half-dozen people who sat behind the prosecution table said they were not from the Baierl group, and a man who identified himself as an attorney for the dealerships rushed out after the hearing.

Baierl Automotive issued a statement after the hearing saying there "were no adverse impacts to our daily operations" from Ms. Smith's actions. "Our business is doing well and we have adopted stronger measures to prevent such a crime from ever occurring again," according to the statement.

breaking - neigh_north

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. First Published May 9, 2012 3:30 PM

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