Criminal Justice

Law Firm Secretary Who Stole $625K Says Partners Were Like Family, Gets 4 to 13 Years

A trusted law firm secretary who stole at least $625,000 from a small New York firm said its partners were like brothers to her at a sentencing hearing yesterday.

In a statement punctuated by sobs, Mary Merten, 44, apologized for putting Richard Riseley and Michael Moriello through hell, but also said she deserved some credit for the hard work that helped make Riseley & Moriello successful, reports the Times Herald-Record.

Merten was then sentenced to a prison term of between 4 and 13 years and ordered to pay agreed restitution of $625,000, although it isn’t clear from news accounts how she expects to be able to come up with the money to do so. She had been accused of taking as much as $800,000 from the Kingston firm and its partners before pleading guilty in March to second-degree grand larceny and three counts of aggravated identity theft.

Moriello testified that the thefts had damaged his credit, stuck him with $63,000 in high-interest credit card debt and decimated his daughter’s college savings account, the newspaper recounts. He also had to spend hundreds of hours away from his family as he worked to try to rectify the situation.

Riseley, who has been in poor health, lost his $350,000 retirement fund, and his 67-year-old wife, who is also a lawyer, told the court she had to return to full-time practice as a result of Merten’s thefts, reports the Daily Freeman.

Over a seven-year period beginning in 2002, Merten embezzled from the firm, its partners and its clients through a series of schemes, according to Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright: Her thefts were detected only after a credit card notification made its way to Riseley before Merten could intercept it, the newspaper reports.

“We believe there wasn’t any critical need for this larceny. She gave money to family members, took trips, had her nails done,” Carnwright said in March, after Merten pleaded guilty, reports an earlier Daily Freeman article.

In the two Daily Freeman articles, the district attorney says Merten wrote checks to herself, submitting false payee documentation to the firm’s bookkeeper. After initially embezzling from the firm’s checking account, she next stole from the partners’ accounts to cover the earlier thefts, and then moved on to the firm’s trust account. She also made some $40,000 in purchases on credit cards she obtained in the firm’s name.

Merten’s lawyer, Jeremiah Flaherty, said she is living with her family, in her mother’s basement, and has not had a lavish lifestyle.

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