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DA: Ex-Suffolk Red Cross official sentenced in theft

Former American Red Cross employee Deborah Leggio, who

Former American Red Cross employee Deborah Leggio, who was convicted in the theft of more than $274,000 from the organization, arrives at court in Riverhead for sentencing. (Feb. 27, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

A compulsive shopper who embezzled a quarter-million dollars from the Suffolk chapter of the American Red Cross while she was its financial director was sentenced Wednesday to 21/3 years to 7 years in prison.

Deborah Leggio, 50, a former Coram resident who now lives in Tracy, Calif., outside of San Francisco, admitted before Judge Richard Ambro in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead that she had paid back only $9,500 of the money since she pleaded guilty 13 months ago to grand larceny and tax evasion charges.

She had faced a minimum of 1 year to 3 years and a maximum of 3 years to 9 years under terms of the Jan. 13, 2012, plea deal. Judge Ambro said he was imposing the sentence partly because she had made "very little restitution" since then.

In all, authorities have said Leggio stole $274,301. She was convicted in Florida in 1990 for a similar offense and spent 13 months in prison, records show.

The regional director of communications for the Red Cross, Sam Kille, gave a victim impact statement on behalf of the charity and asked the judge to impose "the severest" penalty against Leggio, who began work for the Red Cross in 2002 and handled all financial matters during the four-year period of the thefts.

She withdrew hundreds of dollars in cash several times a week from a Red Cross bank account and spent it on restaurant meals, nail salon appointments, household expenses and her son's college tuition.

Outside court, Kille said the embezzlement occurred "during a time where we did have Hurricane Katrina take place, as well as more than 200 single-family home fires in Suffolk County" in which the Red Cross provided temporary shelter and other assistance.

Before she was sentenced, Leggio told the court she was undergoing treatment for her compulsive behavior and that she regretted her crimes.

"I know I violated a trust," she said. "I know I have to live with the shame forever. . . . I'm filled with shame and regret and remorse."

Her attorney, Peter Brill of Hauppauge, told the judge that his client was an "obsessive-compulsive" shopper, but that she knew she was stealing and that it was wrong.

"She spent the money for no good reason whatsoever. . . . She knew exactly what she was doing," he said. He said there was little chance she could ever make full restitution, but he asked, in vain, for additional time for Leggio to make further payments.

Leggio, who had been free on bail, was led away in handcuffs. Members of her family declined to talk to reporters as they left the courthouse.

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