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Paul Marinaccio Sr. immigrated to the United States from his native Italy as a teenager, learned to speak English and started a construction company that put him on the path of becoming a millionaire.

He treated his employees well along the way.

So how did his company’s bookkeeper, a family friend, repay him?

She stole more than $700,000.

After taking the job in 2008, Debora Gramza eventually became so busy stealing his money that she ignored her other duties and paperwork, and that created even more financial troubles for his business, Accadia Site Contracting of Depew, Marinaccio said.

“You gave her a job with great benefits, and the thanks you got was she stole more than $700,000,” said Erie County Judge Kenneth F. Case, who sentenced Gramza on Wednesday to two and one-third to seven years in prison.

“Mr. Marinaccio, you are the epitome of the American success story, and unfortunately, there are people like Mrs. Gramza looking to take it from you,” Case told the 66-year-old Clarence man.

The judge told Marinaccio that any sentence he imposed would not make up for what the 55-year-old Cheektowaga woman put him through.

Gramza pleaded guilty in October to taking money from Accadia Site Contracting for five years.

Marinaccio told the judge that he trusted Gramza like family with his contracting, restaurant and personal accounts.

Her father had befriended Marinaccio when he came to America on a ship at age 16 with only the clothes on his back and five years of schooling. At age 19, Marinaccio started a road construction business.

So when his friend’s daughter approached him for a job in 2008, he hired her as his bookkeeper, paying her $1,100 a week and providing her with health insurance and bonuses.

Prosecutors said she stole $704,353 from his business from Dec. 12, 2008, through July 29, 2013, by forging checks to herself.

The problem came to light last year when the bonding company that Marinaccio uses for construction projects alerted him that his company’s earnings reports were wrong and threatened to stop bonding him.

Marinaccio asked someone who used to handle his books to review them and find the problem. It took just two days to discover the forged checks.

When authorities questioned her, she admitted writing the checks.

“I trusted Debbie with everything,” Marinaccio told the judge. “Nobody can understand the devastation we are going through.”

He said he had just paid off the mortgage on his home in Clarence but had to refinance it for $500,000 so he could pay off his debts and get bonding to continue construction projects.

“Judge, I’m begging you,” Marinaccio said. “Sentence her to the maximum and send a message to these crooks.”

At this point in his life, Marinaccio should be enjoying the fruits of his labor, the judge noted.

Instead, he had to refinance his home to pay off his debts and continue his business.

He praised the contractor on his successful business and sympathized with what he has had to go through to keep his business going and his employees working.

“You don’t deserve any of this,” Case said.

Joanna Tripi, who is Marinaccio’s daughter, called her father generous and willing to help those in need. He contributes to numerous charities and offers to help employees pay their mortgages and car loans.

She said that her father had asked Gramza if she needed any help but that she never asked for any.

Susan Marie Karalus, Gramza’s attorney, said her client had no previous criminal record. She told the judge that Gramza’s son had a terrible drug problem and that Gramza thought she could help him by taking money to keep him out of jail.

Gramza apologized to Marinaccio and his family for betraying their trust.

The judge sentenced Gramza to prison terms of two and one-third to seven years for second-degree grand larceny and one to three years for first-degree falsifying of business records in connection with the theft, and one to three years for offering a false instrument for filing for failing to declare the stolen money as income on her state income taxes, resulting in a liability of $32,568. He ordered the sentences to run concurrently.

Gramza could have faced a maximum prison term of 15 years.

Assistant District Attorneys Candace K. Vogel and Gary M. Ertel said Gramza had filed confessions of judgment for the money she owes Marinaccio’s company and the state.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com