A Cheektowaga woman accused of befriending an elderly woman with dementia and then stealing thousands of dollars from her was placed on five years’ probation Thursday.
The 92-year-old victim, who had worked much of her life at a bakery she and her husband owned at the Broadway Market, had planned to use the money to pay for her great-grandson’s education. But her alleged friend used the money to buy a Lincoln Town Car, a flat-screen TV and jewelry, according to prosecutors.
Janelle L. Kowalewski, 31, of St. James Road, pleaded guilty as charged in December to third-degree grand larceny, admitting that she took at least $7,600 but not the full $18,000 she originally was charged with stealing. Cheektowaga police recovered $4,600 when they arrested her.
But the victim’s granddaughter told Erie County Judge Kenneth F. Case that Kowalewski stole more than money from her grandmother.
“She is now in a nursing home and is hesitant to trust anyone,” she said as her voice broke. “This is how she will spend her final days.”
The granddaughter said Kowalewski stole with no remorse or regret. She said the defendant even drove her grandmother to the bank twice to withdraw money from her two accounts and persuaded her not to tell her family,
She said her grandmother trusted Kowalewski, who “told her about her struggles as a single mother of two children, and grandma took pity on her.”
The family discovered last summer that Kowalewski had taken the money and used it to buy the car, television set and jewelry.
“She left it to us to explain that her friend was a selfish criminal,” the granddaughter said.
She said it was heartbreaking as her family told her grandmother the truth about her friend.
She recalled how her grandmother had run a bakery with her husband for many years and that she was still working at age 80 at Redlinski Meats.
She asked the judge to hold Kowalewski accountable for her actions and requested an order of protection.
The judge thanked the granddaughter for her comments, saying he couldn’t imagine how difficult it was for her to come to court and describe the crime’s impact on her grandmother and family.
He then addressed Kowalewski. “You stole much more than money,” he said. “You stole her faith and trust in human beings, things that she more than likely will not get back.”
Taking the money is bad enough, he said, but faith and trust are two things you can’t put a price on. The judge told Kowalewski that, in his heart, he wanted to sentence her to state prison. Instead, he put her on probation so she can work and pay the remaining $3,000 she owes the victim.
He ordered her to make $100 monthly payments through November 2016.
He also noted that it was her first offense and that she had pleaded guilty to the highest charge.
But he warned that if she violates probation, he will send her to prison. The felony charge carries a maximum prison term of up to seven years.
The judge ordered her to perform 200 hours of community service, and he signed an order of protection directing her to have no contact with the victim or her family for the next five years.