Bookkeeper Gets 30 Days in Jail for Stealing Nearly $500,000

Lake Ronkonkoma woman shells out $60,000 at sentencing and must pay $2,000 each month for the next five years.

A bookkeeper who admitted to stealing nearly half a million from an East Hampton family business will spend the next 30 days in jail, despite being in her last trimester of pregnancy.

Kerri Dewhirst said she was sorry for what she had done — embezzling a documented amount of $442,000 from Schenck Fuels Inc. during the two years she worked there. 

At her sentencing in Suffolk County Criminal Court on Wednesday, her attorney handed over a $60,000 check from his escrow account to begin the restitution process. Free on $250,000 bail since a grand jury indictment in May 2011, she was taken away to the county jail. 

As part of her plea arrangement, she agreed to pay $2,000 per month during five years of probation. If she misses even one payment, Judge James C. Hudson said he could revoke the agreement and re-sentence her to 5 to 15 years in prison.

"The well of mercy has run dry," Hudson told Dewhirst.

Rodney C. Herrlin, an owner of Schenck Fuels, was emotional as he made a statement in the courtroom, explaining that he lost faith in the judicial system — he said the process took 2 years and 4 months. Twenty adjournments later, "she is being sentenced to what I consider a joke and a slap on the wrist," he said.

Herrlin contends that the amount stolen was closer to $600,000 — the rest was in cash from the company's gas business and was not proven in court — spending it on trips to the Bahamas and Florida, a Mercedes SUV, high-end shoes, and Gucci bags.

East Hampton Village police arrested Dewhirst in March 2011. She pleaded guilty as charged to a single count indictment of second-degree grand larceny, a felony, on Oct. 10, 2011. In January of 2012, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office expected a sentence of between 1 and 6 years in prison. At the time, the agreement on the table was that if she paid $40,000 in restitution at the time of sentencing, she would received 2 to 6 years in prison, and if she paid $60,000, she would receive 1 to 3 years.

The sentence she received was "a disgrace and a mockery of the judicial system," Herrlin told the court.

Hudson said he shared Herrlin's frustrations. He acknowledged that "far more lenient" sentences are imposed to those who commit white collar crimes and are non-violent offenders. With such crowded prisons, "Ninety-eight percent of all money stolen in this country make up 1 percent the prison population," he said.

While he could have imposed a harsher sentence if she were found guilty at trial, Hudson said he felt it may be seen as "draconian" at the appellate division and overturned.

The option is for people to "pay with their purse or their person," Hudson said. In this case, Dewhirst, who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, must pay back $180,000 in total — $120,000 over the next five years. There is a judgement of $362,000 against her. 

Herrlin and his family agreed to the plea arrangement so that they could begin to recoup some of the money and move on, but Herrlin said that doesn't mean he thinks it's enough. "For such thievery, the punishment doesn't fit the severity of the crime or the damage she inflicted, not only to my family, but many others who had worked for us and lost their jobs as a result of us having to sell off businesses to survive," he said.

Schenck Fuels Inc. downsized from six businesses to three, and over 70 employees to about 40.

"Shame on us for not picking up on it sooner," he said, adding that when running a number of businesses, "You always have to trust somebody."

Herrlin accused Dewhirst of "getting pregnant to avoid prison."

Her New York City-based attorney, Joseph Dibenedetto, asked that she received medical attention at the county jail, as she has asthma and recently may have developed gestational diabetes.

Ann January 09, 2013 at 06:53 PM
This is DISGUSTING! The system has failed once again & is letting people know they can get away w/ embezzling w/ MINIMAL consequences! This "Lady" should HAVE to pay back what the "documented" theft was!! The "Well of mercy has run dry?" That's laughable!! This woman has gotten off easy & Needs to STOP whining about her asthma & gestational diabetes....She's lucky really..I hope she learns a much needed lesson during her (TOO SHORT) incarceration & doesn't get out to raise the next generation of thieves!
John Anderson January 09, 2013 at 06:58 PM
That sentence can hardly be viewed as a deterrent! She probably had the 65K stashed from the monies she stole. Too often judges look upon embezzlement as a lesser crime. She should be pulling no less than a couple of years.
Daphne jarret January 09, 2013 at 07:07 PM
Is there any way to get rid of the ad at the top of the page if you don't accept the free download? I would love to read the beginning of this article, but its not allowing me to. Any suggestions? I'm on an iPhone and can't see a way to X outt of the banner.....
EHBonacker11937 January 09, 2013 at 08:45 PM
Ok so if she took the money from a BANK its 15 years, becasue she took it from her JOB its 30 days... Does anyone else see an issue with this? If she took $442,000 (ONLY what they can account for) and has to pay back $180,000.. She made $262,000 PLUS her salary. HELL I will do 30 days for that.. WHAT a JOKE!
S.B. Bonacker January 09, 2013 at 09:11 PM
This is a travesty of justice. For the amount she stole, and for what she did to the business i.e. costing jobs and causing the business to downsize it's an insult. And why is the FULL AMOUNT of almost $600K not being paid back????
Cynthia Ibrahim January 09, 2013 at 09:47 PM
this is absolutely ridiculous. Why does she not have to pay back the full amount and why not more jail time. By making the punishment so lax you are just encouraging not deterring others from committing the same crime. I know of at least four different cases like this in the last 7 years and none of them recieved a just punishment. The punishment should fit the crime.
SadderBudweiser January 09, 2013 at 09:49 PM
Crime pays. Yeesh. A slap in the face to a great local business.
Linda Williams January 10, 2013 at 01:08 AM
I am glad Mr. Dick & Ms Sue aren't alive to see this. I agree more jail time and all monies paid back. The money she is paying back is their's to begin with not hers. Shame on her....shame on our system for letting this happen.
David Buda January 10, 2013 at 10:34 AM
Judge James C. Hudson, a name to remember. It is scary that he is the Supervising Judge of the Suffolk County Criminal Court, and will not be able to be removed until he is up for re-election in 2020.
sally January 10, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Evidently,crime DOES pay.!
MARTIN DREW January 10, 2013 at 01:46 PM
Taylor - what's with the ad covering the news story . Can't read it on my phone either .
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) January 10, 2013 at 01:55 PM
I'm sorry - there may be some glitch. Please email support@patch.com to report any problems like that. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Hope and Change January 10, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Wow! how the hell did you stay in business for so long being so stupid?
Loretta Lynch January 10, 2013 at 02:10 PM
She made out like a bandit and those who lost their jobs are screwed. Disgusting, that judge should be run out of town.Hope you voters don't forget his name. JUDGE JAMES C. HUDSON.
tom January 10, 2013 at 02:25 PM
"Stupid"...hardly...more of a situation of expecting someone to be honest and not a low-life thief. This is BS...not only did this thief get $600K interest free, she only has to pay back less than half of what she "borrowed" AND she received her salary + benefits while doing it. Shame on her, shame on the judge.
Preliator January 10, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Sad, how pathetic our justice system is.
PJ Delia January 10, 2013 at 02:45 PM
She really should be having the baby in prison, she could have planned meals and medical supervision.
PJ Delia January 10, 2013 at 02:47 PM
I just can't see that sentence for her damaging a family business that has weathered over a century of ups and downs.
Connie Judson January 10, 2013 at 02:51 PM
it is absurd such a crime should be a minimum sentence of 3-5 years with no parole. r Sentences like this people won't be deterred from stealing Incredible that we have gotten so lax! What is going on...
Christine Martin January 10, 2013 at 03:53 PM
Wow! How could this be? She gets out in 30 days and keeps the rest of the money she stole!
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) January 10, 2013 at 05:36 PM
To our readers: Rodney Herrlin's statement to the judge has been posted on Patch. Click this link to read it: http://patch.com/A-0XSr
eh January 10, 2013 at 07:50 PM
This type of deal is all too common it happens even with violent crime. It falls on the judges and most often it is under the radar, where the press does not see it . the convict who shot the two fireman recently had Been let out of jail on a previous intentional murder conviction -because of a plea deal - how does that seve the families of the victims ? Our best hope for avoiding these issues is for the media to continue to watch the system and report imbalance in sentencing


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