A Durango woman was sentenced to four years in prison Friday for stealing more than half a million dollars from her former employer.
Robin Bernazzani pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $500,000 from Dental Associates of the Southwest, 801 Florida Road, over a 10-year period, a plea agreement that allowed for anything from probation to eight years in prison.
“I think probation severely underappreciates the severeness of this offense,” District Judge Todd Norvell said before imposing his sentence of four years in prison and five years of parole.
Durango defense attorney Richard Jaye asked Norvell to impose probation, arguing that Bernazzani used the money for her family, confessed to the crime and won’t commit another crime like this again.
“I’m asking for some sense of humanity,” Jaye said. “I just don’t see a person like Robin being sent to prison. Prisons weren’t built for people like Robin.”
Reid Stuart, a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office, said he’s seen quite a few embezzlement cases in his career, but none of this magnitude. He did not give a sentencing recommendation to Norvell: “I just don’t know,” he said.
The prosecution called two witnesses – the owners of Dental Associates of the Southwest. Chris Wenburg said the fallout from being robbed of more than half a million dollars has been difficult for his business and his family. He said his trust in humanity has faltered as a result of being lied to for years.
Courtney Heinicke, another doctor and owner with Dental Associates of the Southwest, said it was hard for him to even speak to the judge.
“I can’t even look at Robin’s family, and they’re like family to me,” he told Norvell.
In her remarks, Bernazzani fought through tears to express remorse and admit responsibility for stealing from the dentist office. She recognized the damage done to the people she once worked for, both financially and emotionally.
“There are no words to express the remorse for hurting the people I cared about,” Bernazzani said.
Norvell didn’t quite buy the notion that Bernazzani came clean about her behavior because of some sudden awareness of the impacts of her actions, as her lawyer suggested. The employees at the dentist office became suspicious of Bernazzani, Norvell said, and that was likely the reason she confessed.
“You’ve undoubtedly affected their ability to trust people for the rest of their lives,” Norvell said. “This has hurt your kids, your husband, all because you chose a path to steal. I don’t know if you had a monetary amount in mind, but you certainly showed no restraint.”
Bernazzani was arrested in July after she confessed to her former employers in a written statement admitting to stealing from them for almost a decade. Bernazzani wrote checks to herself or one of her business accounts by using a signature stamp or forging a dentist’s signature. She would then enter the amount in QuickBooks as an expense to a dental lab or supply company. Bernazzani also used a dentist’s credit card to pay for personal bills or online shopping, entering her charges as a bulk payment to a dental supply company, according to an arrest affidavit.
Bernazzani’s conviction also unsealed another case from 2008 in which she received a deferred sentence, a conviction without jail time, for stealing about $10,000 from First National Bank of Durango. The conviction was erased from her record after she successfully completed terms of her probation.
“I don’t know that this won’t happen again,” Norvell said. “I don’t know how I promote respect for the law by imposing probation.”
Bernazzani, who was free on bail, was remanded into the custody of the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office as soon as Novell imposed his sentence. She hugged and kissed her husband, John, who declined to comment, before being led away by deputies.