WATERLOO — Despite a plea to have her time behind bars postponed or to serve weekends, a Romulus woman who stole tens of thousands of dollars from a charity is now in the Seneca County Jail.
Mary Brainard, 60, was sentenced Monday to six months in jail after pleading guilty to one count of third-degree grand larceny and 18 counts of first-degree falsifying business records. All are felony charges.
Brainard was sentenced by state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Doyle of Monroe County. He handled the case because Brainard’s husband, Calvin, was an area attorney who argued cases before Seneca County Judge Dennis Bender.
Before she was sentenced, Brainard’s attorney — Richard Swinehart — asked Doyle to delay her incarceration until a federal case against her is complete. In that case, Brainard has pleaded guilty to wire fraud through the mortgage brokerage business she ran with her husband in Seneca Falls, BMC Capital; charges against Calvin Brainard were later dismissed.
Brainard is expected to be sentenced to three to five years in prison on that charge, as well as a fine and restitution. Doyle, who has no involvement in the federal case, previously said he would try to sentence Brainard on the local charges after the federal sentence, meaning she wouldn’t have to spend time in the county jail.
Since the federal case hasn’t been resolved, however, he ordered that Brainard go to jail Monday.
In August, Brainard admitted she stole money from the Seneca County Children’s Committee between June 2007 and December 2011 while she was the group’s treasurer. She submitted a number of false financial reports to conceal the thefts.
The committee, a nonprofit organization funded in part by the United Way, is a group of private citizens interested in the welfare of children and their families. It dates back to the 1860s and provides scholarships, camp opportunities and other special services to underprivileged children.
Committee members said Brainard stole about $50,000 over the years but put money back at various times. When she pleaded guilty to the charges, she paid back the remaining $26,600 she owed the organization.
Diana Becker, a past president of the committee who acted as the group’s spokesperson, read a prepared statement Monday. She said committee members were contacted in 2011 by state police about irregularities with committee finances.
“When the committee was finally able to access our bank records, it revealed a shameless abuse of our funds,” Becker said. “Over a period of six years, Mary Brainard spent our money at will.”
Becker said since some of the theft happened outside the statute of limitations, there is money the committee will never get back.
“Mary would have you believe that this was merely co-mingling of funds,” Becker added. “However, when you remove $27,000 more than you put back, that is not co-mingling of funds — that is theft.”
Becker said Brainard’s actions have caused irrefutable harm to the committee’s good name, and because of the theft it had to turn away needy children.
“You chose to use the children’s money to have your basement cleaned out — that money would have provided two college scholarships. You chose to use the children’s money to pay for a lavish party at Geneva on the Lake — we could have bought eight cribs with those funds,” Becker told Brainard. “You chose to use the children’s money to buy a gift certificate for gourmet cooking lessons — that would have bought baby formula for a month. But Mary, at what price have these choices been made? They have cost you the respect of this community, your best friends and ultimately your freedom.”
Swinehart called his client “a proud but troubled person” who had a positive impact on community organizations for decades, including the Girl Scouts, National Women’s Hall of Fame and Family Counseling Service of the Finger Lakes. Swinehart said Brainard was a foster parent over the years and hosted foreign exchange students, and would also personally pay for expenses — such as mailing — for the organizations she volunteered for, including the children’s committee.
Swinehart also asked Doyle to keep Brainard out of jail for medical reasons, including two recent surgeries that require physical therapy and medication. He also said Brainard is pre-diabetic and needs her blood tested three times daily, which is problematic in jail.
Saying she was on medication, Brainard declined to make a formal statement at her sentencing.
“I’m a little bit dizzy,” she said. “I don’t feel I would get anything out coherently.”
Swinehart asked if Doyle had to sentence Brainard to jail now, that he possibly could make it weekends so she could get medical help during the week. Doyle declined to do that.
“I think it would be fair to say you have violated the trust of a significant portion of this community,” Doyle told Brainard.
The most serious charge Brainard faced in the Seneca County case, third-degree grand larceny, is a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. In a brief statement, District Attorney Barry Porsch said he would have preferred to see Brainard do more time behind bars for the local charges, but he understood Doyle’s commitment to the sentence.
“The defendant is the Mary Madoff of Seneca County and deserves the maximum sentence,” said Porsch in a reference to noted swindler Bernard Madoff.
In the federal case, officials from the U.S. Attorney’s Office out of Rochester said Brainard took money that was supposed to pay their clients’ mortgage loans and used it for her own purposes. They believe she stole at least $400,000 from at least 10 people in 2009 and 2010.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Field, who is prosecuting the case, has declined to discuss the case as has Brainard’s attorney on the federal charges, David Rothenberg of Rochester. He was in Waterloo for Monday’s sentencing.