Pamela M. Blood’s attempt to avoid prison for stealing $311,000 from a 77-year-old widow to support a gambling addiction included a claim that medicine she was on helped trigger her compulsive behavior.
Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk wasn’t buying that explanation at her sentencing Monday. He pointed out that her thefts began a year or two before the 56-year-old paralegal started taking prescription medicine for restless leg syndrome.
In refusing her request for probation, Franczyk sentenced her to state prison for 16 months to four years. He could have imposed up to 30 years.
Blood, who often wept throughout the proceedings, wrote monthly checks to herself for as much as $5,000 from Patricia Rupp’s accounts, after being hired part time by the Grand Island woman seven years ago to keep track of her money following the death of Rupp’s husband, a construction equipment company owner.
Blood pleaded guilty in October to second-degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. A former paralegal with the Buffalo law offices of Hiscock & Barclay, Blood took on the side job independent of the law firm.
“She stands before you a broken woman,” defense attorney Anthony J. Lana told the judge. “She has no assets, no husband and no sense of self-worth.”
Her husband, the attorney said, died in a trucking accident late last year.
Lana said that while managing Rupp’s books, Blood suffered a series of mini-strokes that may also have clouded her judgment.
Some of the stolen money, Blood had confessed, went to help finance her husband’s business.
When it was her turn to address the court in front of 10 members of her family and friends, the Lockport woman owned up to her thefts and apologized.
“Your honor, I am totally responsible for what I did. There is nothing I can do to change it. The medication was a factor, but I still was responsible for gambling,” she said of her trips three or four times a week to a Niagara Falls casino. “I will never allow myself to forget. I am very, very sorry, most of all for the breaking of trust.”
Mirapex, the medication she took, is known to promote compulsive behaviors such as gambling, Lana told the judge.
Franczyk, in sentencing her, said he had a difficult time reconciling the woman standing before him, who was described as a good and loving individual, with the one who routinely stole from the accounts of a person who had trusted her.
“This was a colossal breach of someone’s trust. It’s not like a shoplifter taking one thing. This was the systematic, ongoing fleecing of a woman at a rate of $5,000 a month,” Franczyk said.
Blood, a mother of two grown children and a grandmother, came to court with a check for $100,000 in partial repayment for the thefts. She raised the money by closing out her retirement account and mortgaging her home, Lana said.
Franczyk ordered Blood to pay the remaining $211,000.
Present in court on behalf of his mother, who is in Florida, was Melvin Rupp III. The money Blood stole, he said, was intended for his mother to live on in retirement. And while he felt the judge imposed a just sentence, he said, “it is hard to pay back when you’re in jail.”
His mother, he added, would have accepted a sentence of probation in order for Blood to make restitution.
“My mom is relieved and sad. This is not a happy victory,” Rupp said of a phone conversation he had with his mother after Monday’s sentencing. “As a Christian, her heart goes out to Pam, who has been through a lot.”
The thefts were discovered last September when the widow was reviewing unrelated financial matters with another son, Andrew.
Lana said he is hopeful that Blood, who has no prior arrests, will be released from prison in about a year and placed in a halfway house. He added that she has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings and receiving mental health counseling.
Assistant District Attorney Candace K. Vogel, who specializes in cases of financial elder abuse, prosecuted the case.