Paying $50,000 in restitution kept a Blasdell embezzler out of prison Monday.
In addition, Debra Michalski, 55, of South Park Avenue, agreed to pay $300 a month for 10 years in further restitution.
That would bring the total restitution to about half of the $176,075 she admitted stealing from her employer, Team Freight Inc. of Buffalo.
Seeing her led out of the courtroom in handcuffs bound for prison would have provided "satisfaction for a moment," said the company owner, Mark K. Sikorski.
But if Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio had sentenced Michalski to county jail or state prison, Michalski would not have offered to pay as much restitution as she did Monday, and DiTullio would not have been able to impose as much restitution on the defendant as she did.
With the restitution, "I'll satisfy other people over the long term," Sikorski said.
"I'm glad I had a chance to choose," he said of the choice between restitution or incarceration.
Sikorski said he would spend the money he received Monday paying bills he has not been able to pay as a result of the theft.
"This will give me a chance to rebuild what I started building," Sikorski said.
"Half is certainly a good start to get his life and his company back on track," said John C. Doscher, head of the Erie County District Attorney's Special Investigations Bureau, who prosecuted Michalski.
The $50,000 check that Sikorski received during Michalski's sentencing will barely cover the bank fees, insufficient-funds charges and other costs he incurred from the company checks that bounced as a result of her larceny, he said.
The theft hit the company hard, and it was not just Sikorski who felt financial pain. He said he had to lay off employees as a result of the crime because he could not afford to pay them.
The theft and economic conditions have left the company with seven employees today, compared with 23 employees at one time.
Sikorski said he did not receive a paycheck from Team Freight for three years, surviving on income from another company he owns.
"They lived the high life," Sikorski said, noting trips that Michalski and her family took. "I haven't had a vacation for 10 years."
DiTullio sentenced Michalski to probation in addition to the restitution. "The court is choosing a non-jail sentence because of the restitution," DiTullio said.
Michalski did not speak during the hearing, but defense lawyer Daniel P. Grasso thanked Sikorski for agreeing to restitution and probation.
Grasso called it "a rare sight for someone so damaged" to not press for incarceration. Sikorski has "a big heart," Grasso said.
The embezzlement coincided with Michalski's medical bills for cancer treatment and her husband's job loss, her lawyer said. "She simply found herself behind the eight ball financially," he said.
Michalski pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny for stealing $176,075 between April 2003 and September 2011. She also pleaded guilty to first-degree offering a false instrument for a false income tax return.
His client never denied the wrongdoing, Grasso said, and intended to repay the money she stole. "It just snowballed, and she was unable to," he said.
Sikorski said he left Michalski to attend to the trucking company, paying its bills and handling payroll and the like, while he concentrated on other business matters.
The $176,075 is only the amount prosecutors could prove she stole. Sikorski estimates that the damage to his company reached nearly a half a million dollars.
The company has begun to recover, he said.
While the crime hurt financially, her actions also hurt Sikorski personally, he said.
Sikorski said he was close friends with Michalski and her husband, spending time with them socially outside of work.