CORUNNA — Judge Matthew Stewart Friday told Mary Lombardo, the former Steam Railroading Institute finance director, that she stole from Santa Claus before sending her to prison for at least three years for embezzling from the nonprofit organization.
Lombardo, 41, of Morrice also was ordered to pay $227,818 in restitution.
Stewart told Lombardo she had not only betrayed the trust of her employer, but the entire community, and that she deserved a prison term.
“It’s worth mentioning that it’s unlikely anyone will ever know the full scope of your crimes since you had ready access to cash payments that you pocketed, and you scuttled the office when you left,” Stewart said. “The victim is a nonprofit organization. So you stole from Santa Claus.”
The SRI runs an annual series of train trips with its famous Pere Marquette 1225 steam train that features a trip to the "north pole" in Ashley for a visit with Santa Claus. The train also was featured in the movie, "The Polar Express," starring Tom Hanks.
Lombardo will serve three to 15 years in prison, pay restitution, plus court fines and costs. She was given credit for 133 days served toward her sentence.
Lombardo was charged with felony embezzlement of more than $100,000 by prosecutors April 29 after SRI conducted a financial audit. An Owosso police investigation found she had embezzled over a three-year period from 2015-18.
After initially fleeing the area, leading police to seek the public's help in finding her, she turned herself in to the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office May 4 and was arraigned May 6 in 66th District Court by Judge Terrance Dignan. She pleaded not guilty and has been lodged at the jail since that time.
She reached a plea deal with prosecutors that reduced the embezzlement charge to $50,000 to $100,000 at a July 22 hearing.
SRI Executive Director Kim Springsdorf, in a victim’s impact statement to the court, detailed how Lombardo’s embezzlement began when Springsdorf took time off work for health reasons. Lombardo resigned before Springsdorf returned to work.
“Mary stole over $200,000 from our organization,” Springsdorf said. “When Mary left, she basically sneaked out. She erased files. She shredded files. She wiped out computers. For all the money she stole, she wasn’t able to have anything to show for it. Luckily, we were strong enough to make it through this experience. Mary should be used as an example, and face the consequences of these horrific actions.”
Prosecutor Deana Finnegan however, asked the court to impose a prison sentence bedcause of the amount embezzled and the fact that SRI is a nonprofit. She noted Lombardo tried to hide evidence.
Finnegan said she doubts SRI will ever recoup the entire amount Lombardo embezzled, and it is likely she stole much more than the restitution amount by pocketing cash from merchandise sales and other sources.
“I’m just amazed at the amount of money this woman took,” Finnegan said. “And she did it at a time when SRI was at its most vulnerable. She stole them blind. After three years of stealing, she has absolutely nothing to show for it. She couldn’t post a bond, and has to rely on a public defender. This isn’t providing for her family. This is providing for herself. Then she destroyed any evidence she thought could be used against her. There has to be a message sent here: Don’t steal from a nonprofit.”
Lombardo’s attorney, Doug Corwin, blamed the embezzlement on impulse shopping, similar to a gambling addiction, and asked Stewart to keep sentencing within guidelines.
“She held a position of trust,” Corwin said. “It’s unfortunate that this happened in our community, but this is her first felony offense.”
Lombardo offered a short apology before being sentenced.
“I’d like to apologize to the SRI, to the community of Owosso and to this court for betraying the trust that was put in me, the damage that my actions have caused, and taking money from the SRI for my own personal use. I’m also sorry for wasting everyone’s time because of my actions," she said.