Saturday January 26, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A Dummerston woman accused of selling her employer’s custom-made jewelry on the Internet for her own profit was sentenced Wednesday to three years of probation.

According to a press release from the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont, Andrea Carrasquillo, 33, pleaded guilty
Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Burlington to one count of wire fraud.

As part of her sentence, Judge William K. Sessions III ordered Carrasquillo to serve four months of home confinement followed by four months during which she will be subject to a curfew. Carrasquillo was also ordered to pay her victims, Marianna and Richard Jacobs, $19,566.51 in restitution.

During the sentencing, a letter from the Jacobs, who owned Sajen Jewelry in Putney at the time of the theft, was read into the record. In the letter, the Jacobses made a plea for leniency.

"We were very concerned," said Richard Jacobs, in a phone call to the Reformer from India, where he was conducting business. "We didn’t want her to be incarcerated."

Jacobs said he understood that the judge could have sent Carrasquillo to prison, but was relieved that she got probation instead.

"She started working for us when she was very young," he said. "To us, it was like a family member who went off the tracks, but our initial reaction was something must be very wrong for her to resort to something like this."

According to court documents, from approximately August of 1999 until she was laid off in March of 2010, Carrasquillo was an employee of Sajen Jewelry, which was owned and operated by the Jacobs in Putney.

She was then rehired by Sajen in November of 2010 to help close down the Jacobs’ wholesale business. Between then and March 2011, Carrasquillo sold jewelry to customers throughout the United States and abroad via the Internet and television.

She used her husband’s eBay account to sell pieces of jewelry that belonged to Sajen Jewelry at a discount price, according to court documents, often advertised as being "new with tags."

The fraud came to the attention of law enforcement after some of Sajen’s regular customers alerted the business to the scheme.

In all, Carrasquillo sold 337 pieces over eBay at a profit to herself of $17,198.40, according to court documents.

On March 24, 2011, officers from the Windham County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant at the home Carrasquillo shared with her husband, Seth, in Dummerston. There they found more than 900 pieces of Sajen jewelry and evidence of an active eBay business.

Andrea Carrasquillo was originally charged in Windham District Court with grand larceny, embezzlement and possession of stolen property. Because the scheme involved interstate commerce, the U.S. Attorney’s Office eventually took over the case.

Her husband was cited for aiding in the commission of a felony and possession of stolen property. Charges against him were eventually dismissed, though the U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment on why.

When Jacobs and his wife learned of their employee’s betrayal, "We were hurt and shocked the way anyone might be."

Despite that, he and his wife never pressed charges against Carrasquillo.

"We forgave her," he said. "We wanted to reach out and help her, not hurt her. Our position from the beginning was to try to stop what was happening and get our jewelry back. We didn’t expect that this would become a federal case."

Carrasquillo faced up to 20 years in prison. In sentencing her, Sessions considered her lack of criminal history, her acceptance of responsibility, and her family commitments. But Sessions also noted the seriousness of the offense, particularly Carrasquillo’s violation of her employers’ trust.

Jacobs said he and his wife were concerned about what might happen to her two children if she had been sent to prison.

"They would have been damaged by having a mother in jail for a couple of years. That’s a big relief for us."

Carrasquillo’s attorney, James Valente, of Costello, Valente & Gentry in Brattleboro, said he wasn’t sure if the letter swayed the judge in determining his client’s sentence, but said Richard and Marianna Jacobs were examples of "compassionate victims."

He said during the time he has represented Carrasquillo, she has been extremely remorseful.

"She apologized at her sentencing," said Valente. "She knew what she did was wrong and she wishes she had made better choices."

Between the time she lost her job at Sajen and was rehired to help wind down the business, Carrasquillo had suffered some setbacks, said Valente, and her husband had also lost his job. He said Carrasquillo made bad choices when the two properties she owned with her husband were on the verge of foreclosure and their car payment was in default.

She and Seth are now divorced, said Valente, and she is caring for two young children and her elderly father, a former teacher at Brattleboro Union High School.

While Jacobs and his wife have a small storefront in Putney, most of their design work is now done for another company.

"Our Offerings store in Putney is a separate business from Sajen and Andrea’s theft did not concern or affect it," said Jacobs. "It is just like any other small country store, lucky to get a few sales a day."

He said he hopes his former employee has learned a lesson well from her prosecution.

"We hope she finds a way to turn this into a positive learning experience."

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.