PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A finance executive who linked her $900,000 embezzlement from the Philadelphia archdiocese to the church's sex-abuse scandal was sentenced Friday to two to seven years in prison.
Anita Guzzardi, 42, said she succumbed to gambling and shopping addictions after feeling betrayed by the church over the priest sex-abuse scandal.
Guzzardi had worked at the Roman Catholic archdiocese since she was 20, and was making $124,000 a year as chief financial officer when she was fired last year.
"She felt betrayed by the institution," defense lawyer Louis R. Busico told a judge.
A prosecutor countered that Guzzardi "partie(d) for seven years on somebody else's dime," despite the fact she and her husband had combined incomes of more than $300,000 and no children.
Guzzardi took relatives on trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean and San Francisco, and spent lavishly on herself and others, Assistant District Attorney Lisa Caulfield said. She also spent heavily on spas, restaurant meals and flowers and made extra mortgage payments on the couple's $425,000 house in suburban Haddon Heights, N.J.
"When you steal money and you don't need it, that is pure greed," Caulfield said. "(It) was spent on ridiculous luxuries that many parishioners may only dream about."
American Express discovered the scam when the company questioned the use of church checks to pay monthly bills that sometimes topped $29,000.
Guzzardi has repaid $260,000, and has been ordered to pay the remaining restitution. Her sister, Rosemarie Gallo, called Guzzardi "the dependable one" in the large extended South Philadelphia family — many of whom came to court — and said their parents had gambling and shopping addictions.
"I'm an imperfect person," Guzzardi said, "and I succumbed to very regrettable actions."
Busico said the 2005 grand jury report on priest-abuse within the archdiocese triggered the crime spree, although Caulfield said it started beforehand. Busico called that scandal a far greater problem for the church, and said his client's theft didn't cause any school or program closures since insurance covered the losses.
Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler credited Guzzardi for her cooperation in the case, which included meetings to help unravel the financial fraud and another with the church sex-abuse prosecutors. Guzzardi, though, was not called to testify at the recent landmark trial of a Philadelphia monsignor charged with helping cover up abuse complaints.
Monsignor William Lynn is in prison after being convicted of felony child endangerment, while another Philadelphia priest is serving a sex-assault sentence and three others await trial on sex-assault charges.