Melissa Kwoka stole more than $102,000 from Planned Parenthood of Western New York when she worked as its staff accountant, but what she did with the money she took during an eight-month period remains unclear.
She did not spend it on drugs or gambling, her defense lawyer said Thursday at her sentencing in a downtown Buffalo courtroom.
“It’s perplexing,” James DeMatteo told State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski.
Kwoka, 44, of Lockport, has a history of larceny. She has three theft convictions dating back to May 2002, when she admitted stealing $212 from the City of Lockport Building Inspection Department. She worked there as a secretary for a little more than a year.
While awaiting sentencing in the Planned Parenthood theft, she was accused last month of electronically transferring $520 from a friend’s bank account so she could make a car payment. She had been held on $1,000 bail in the Niagara County Jail on a fourth-degree grand larceny charge in that case.
Now she heads to the Erie County Correctional Facility to serve a six-month jail term that Michalski imposed Thursday for second-degree grand larceny in the Planned Parenthood theft.
She pleaded guilty to the count in July, admitting she took $102,733 from Planned Parenthood by forging 15 checks to her and her husband from August 2012 through March 2013.
After her release from jail, she will serve five years probation. She was also ordered to make full restitution.
She plans to pay back the $102,733, DeMatteo said. She is looking for a job to make that possible.
Kwoka told the judge she was sorry for her actions and will do everything she can to pay back Planned Parenthood.
The judge ordered her to make monthly payments for 10 years of $647.78 to Planned Parenthood to cover $77,733 of the stolen amount. The judge also ordered $208.33 monthly payments to M&T Bank, where the checks were drawn, to cover $25,000 the bank paid Planned Parenthood for failing to catch a portion of the thefts.
The judge warned her that if she fails to make the monthly payments, he can resentence her to a maximum prison term of 15 years. He also ordered her to get a job and perform 50 hours of community service.
Before the judge sentenced Kwoka, Assistant District Attorney Brian P. Dassero told the court that Karen Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of WNY, indicated the stolen $102,773 could have provided 1,500 people with health care.