Probation is a sufficient sentence
Saying he wouldn’t send her to prison so she can pay restitution, a federal judge on Thursday sentenced the former treasurer of a Beaver County youth soccer association to probation for stealing $100,000 and using it to pay for cruises, merchandise and household bills.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab imposed a term of five years probation on Jenessa Tolejko, who had waived indictment by grand jury and pleaded guilty to stealing from the Brighton Township-Beaver Soccer Association.
He also put her on home detention for nine months and ordered her to pay at least $1,000 a month towards full restitution.
Ms. Tolejko said that she stole because of her family’s financial difficulties brought on in part by medical expenses for her son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Bengel rejected that explanation, saying she didn’t use any of the money for medical payments but instead paid for a Royal Caribbean cruise, a flight to Hawaii, her mortgage, various bills from utilities and personal purchases from Amazon and the high-end LuLaRoe clothing company.
“She had easy access to a significant pot of money and she thought she could use it for her own purposes without getting caught,” Mr. Bengel said.
In fact, he said, she was only discovered because of a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2019 that reported she had been accused of stealing $3,000 in pet adoption fees from an animal rescue service. The soccer association approached her after that to discuss the association finances. A week later, Mr. Bengel said, Tolejko’s father-in-law wired her $35,000. He told investigators that he believed he was helping her resolve a “state case involving dogs,” Mr. Bengel said.
He said the Tolejko family has a nice home and her husband has a good salary as an electrical engineer working in Ohio, so there was no financial distress to serve as motivation for the thefts. In addition, the soccer association said it has suffered greatly because of her actions.
“I think a sentence of imprisonment is necessary,” Mr. Bengel said.
The guideline range was 21 to 27 months.
Tolejko and her lawyer, Steve Townsend, asked for probation, saying she has already paid $5,000 in restitution and is needed at home to care for her three children and her mother.
Tolejko said she is “incredibly remorseful” for violating the trust the association gave her.
“I selfishly violated that trust,” she said. “I embarrassed my family.”
Judge Schwab said her conduct was “outrageous” but granted the probation request because the association said its priority was to get its money back. In addition, he noted her solid work history and her need to care for her children.
“Incarceration would be inconsistent with the goal of restitution,” he said.
But he also said he’s well aware that her thefts were for personal luxury items and other expenses as opposed to medical bills, for which the family had health insurance.
“Just to make it clear, these were not medical expenses,” the judge said.
Tolejko had complete control over the soccer association’s bank account, debit card and two certificates of deposit. The money was supposed to go towards soccer gear, field fees and the like.
From 2016 to 2019, Tolejko caused about $180,000 to be deposited into the soccer association’s Citizens Bank account and then used $100,000 of it for herself.
She also transferred money from the association’s Blue Sombrero account into two other accounts that she and her husband controlled. Blue Sombrero provides league management tools for youth sports leagues.
As a result of the embezzlement, Mr. Bengel said the soccer association has not been able to replace deteriorating soccer gear and had to charge families higher fees to recoup the money.
First Published August 26, 2021, 12:35pm