on September 19, 2013 - 1:27 AM
The husband of the woman at the center of an embezzlement case involving the theft of donated money intended for a Depew youth hockey club says his wife suffers from a gambling addiction.
Frank Fusani, a Depew police lieutenant on extended sick leave, said his wife, Teresa, a former Depew village trustee and former treasurer of the Depew Saints Hockey Club, is seeking help for her addiction. He said she is fully cooperating with investigators in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling the probe of what could be more than $100,000 she is suspected of spending at area gambling venues and to pay personal expenses.
“She’s currently in a program getting help. This is more of a disease,” the husband told The Buffalo News on Wednesday, adding that he had been unaware of her alleged thefts He said he is not a target of the investigation.
A Depew police official confirmed that there is no evidence implicating the lieutenant, who suffered a stroke while on duty a few months ago.
The police official said that when the department first learned of the allegations about 10 days ago and subsequently informed Police Chief Stan Carwile, a decision was made to immediately turn the case over to the District Attorney’s Office to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest and to allow the investigation to proceed with complete transparency.
Teresa A. Fusani, 49, could not be reached to comment Wednesday, but her husband said she has been receiving help to deal with her gambling addiction and that she was away on a long-planned visit to relatives out of state.
“She was very dedicated to the youth hockey. We had two children involved in the league,” Frank Fusani said, adding that he and his wife intend to make restitution as best they can for any missing funds. “She has fully cooperated and talked to the DA’s investigators, answering their questions.”
He added that his wife has no previous criminal record.
Authorities are investigating missing donations Teresa Fusani is alleged to have sought on behalf of the club from area businesses, according to former and present club members. Fusani had served as the club’s volunteer treasurer and, prior to that, as a hockey team manager.
The Fusanis’ oldest son, Michael, was an assistant coach with the club, which serves about 500 youngsters, and was elected in 2011 as a member of the Depew Board of Education.
Teresa Fusani worked for a year as Depew’s part-time recreation director, starting in April 2011. She is also employed in the office at Curtis Screw.
She served as a village trustee from 2005 to 2009.
Business owners who made contributions to Teresa Fusani said they were deeply disturbed at the allegations that their money never benefited youngsters in the hockey club.
“I’m very surprised, I’m very disappointed, and I’m very sad. It hurts,” said John Caselinuovo, owner of Casey’s Truck Salvage on Transit Road in Depew. “We gave regularly throughout the years.”
A company official at Twin Village Recycling on Broadway in Depew estimated that the company donated a total of $1,200 over the last four years to Fusani, who presented herself as a representative of the hockey club.
“You trust people, and it is sad when people break that trust,” the official said. “She stopped here every year around March. She was in here last March with her teenage son, and I personally handed him the check. I wrote it for $300.”
The Buffalo News first reported on the investigation Wednesday, following up on information received from present and former Saints club officials.
“Her family was embraced by everybody in the Saints organization and the community, and now, to do this to a hockey community, makes me sick to my stomach,” said a former president of the Saints who asked not to be named. “It’s our hometown hockey team, our hometown rink and pillars of our community that are affected.”
The former official added that Teresa Fusani was the club’s treasurer several years ago and that eventually he and other club officers “forced her out.”
“She would never provide accurate details of our treasury,” he said. “It was always broken promises, and nothing ever materialized.”
After Teresa Fusani left the treasurer post around 2006 and financial records were turned over to the club’s board, the accounting sheets reflected a $52,000 surplus, according to the former club president. “We were like, ‘Wow! We’re moving forward with $52,000.’ We never suspected anything. I guess we were satisfied with the amount of money that remained in the account when the books were turned over.”
But even after she was forced out as treasurer, Teresa Fusani apparently continued to raise money using the Saints club name and allegedly funneled it to herself. The former board president said it’s now believed she solicited business donations from about 2005 up until this spring, a circumstance confirmed by business owners who said they gave her the donations.
Frank Fusani, her husband, had served as sergeant-at-arms for the hockey club board and was ice coordinator, but he reportedly left the hockey club’s board after his wife lost her position.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court records show the couple’s finances were in trouble.
They filed jointly for bankruptcy Nov. 26, 1997, with the case closed in March 1998. Then in May 2007, Teresa Fusani filed alone for bankruptcy protection, citing consumer debt as the reason.
According to the 2007 bankruptcy filing, $156,920 was listed in assets, with $171,220 in liabilities.
Now, as the Saints members and former members await the findings of the district attorney’s investigation, they are looking to improve their image in the community.
“We want to re-establish our credibility. We’re a rock-solid organization here,” the former board president said Wednesday.
The club’s season starts Sunday.