BARKER, N.Y. (WIVB) - Even though some people get caught steal thousands of dollars from others, many don't end up spending any time behind bars.
For example, Wanda Hasbrouck stole $40,000 while working as a teller at a Buffalo credit union. Theresa Dobrzanski or Orchard Park ripped off retired workers to the tune of $140,000. And Ken Heitzenrater, a contractor in Niagara County, tricked an elderly man into giving up more than $550,000.
All three were convicted, but none were sent to jail - just given probation sentences. Some say this punishment doesn't fit the crime.
When he was sentenced in January, the 50-year-old Barker man said he considered the elderly man to be a father figure.
"I guess I ruined his trust in me and I'm sorry," Heitzenrater stated.
The contractor had access to the victim's accounts because the elderly man put Heitzenrater in charge of his will and estate. Heitzenrater used the victim's money to buy two buildings - an ice cream shop and a quilt store - and a Chevy Camaro.
Heitzenrater was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay restitution.
Former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark says when someone commits a white collar crime, this type of sentence is common.
"The primary reason is that the victim would rather have his money back then see the defendant go to jail," Clark explained.
The former DA says paying the money back is the bargaining chip to keep defendants out of jail. However, the time to pay it back often has an expiration date.
"That's the dirty little secret," Clark said. "Payment has to be made within the terms of probation. If you get five years probation, you've got to pay that money back within those five years, because after those five years the court loses jurisdiction over you."
Heitzenrater is supposed to pay $1,300 to the victim each month. At that rate, it would take him 35 years to pay the elderly victim back. But his probation term is only five years, meaning at most the victim would receive $78,000.
Clark explained, "Unless you get a civil judgment against him, he can stop paying. And not only can he stop paying, believe me he will stop paying."
That means Heitzenrater could get away with stealing $473,000 without consequence.
But Heitzenrater could be facing jail time after he got in trouble with the law again. He appeared in Somerset Town Court to be arraigned on charges of harassment, endangering the welfare of a child, menacing and reckless driving.
Heitzenrater's neighbor, Ted Kurdorfer, says the contractor threatened him and tried to run him off the road.
"I don't know why he has any bad or hard feelings for me. All I did was help out the man next door who needed help. I just want to be left alone," Kurdorfer said.
If convicted of these new charges, Heitzenrater could end up behind bars. Neither Heitzenrater or his attorney had any comment.
If you suspect that someone is stealing from your business or bank account, FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Holly Hubert says it's important to frequently examine all of your documents.
"Always collect all of your documents the minute you suspect something is wrong. I think you call right away to law enforcement, the Attorney General's office, the FBI or your local police department," Hubert said.
If you have a loved one who is elderly and they can't file a complaint or examine their own documents, estate planning and elder law attorney Bob Friedman says it's important to have a trusted person to manage their finances with power of attorney.
"Have two agents that can check on one another. You can also designate in your power of attorney to have a monitor, person that would look over what the powers of attorney's are doing," Friedman said.
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