The former manager of a Norton Shores credit union who embezzled more than $1.9 million, using the money on vehicles and cruises, had an “immense toll” on her victims, the sentencing judge said Monday.
“It was a very serious offense with apparently not much respect for the law,” U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell said. “What I get here are cruises, pickup trucks, boats – all kinds of things that are not necessary.”
Kathryn Sue Simmerman, who joined Shoreline Federal Credit Union in 1986, made a tearful apology for what she conceded was a betrayal of her co-workers and the 4,100 member Muskegon County credit union.
“I stole a lot of money and I knew it was wrong,” she said through tears. “I want to apologize to my parents, family and friends. I made a terrible example for my children and grandchildren.
“I’m heartbroken over all the friendships I’ve lost,” Simmerman added. “I will forever work to make amendments for my actions.”
Those amendments will begin behind bars. Bell sentenced Simmerman to 6½ years in prison and ordered her to make full restitution for with the money she took.
The 55-year-old mother of two was turned over to U.S.marshals following Monday’s nearly two-hour sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids.
Shoreline employees and board members, several of whom attended Monday’s sentencing, “feel an overwhelming sense of betrayal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay Stiffler told the court.
Simmerman, who was promoted to branch manager in 2006, entered the vault 433 times and stuffed bundles of cash into her purse before other workers arrived. She then asked employees to deposit the cash to credit union accounts controlled by her family.
Simmerman’s sentence is about a year less than what federal prosecutors were seeking in a case that garnered national attention due to the scope and length of the losses.
Her defense team argued Monday that her manner was not sophisticated, but conceded the amount she was able to squirrel away was “jaw-dropping.”
“It started small, it kept going on and on for 17 years,” defense attorney Donald A. Davis told the court. “Ms. Simmerman realized she wasn’t going to pay it back. What she spent it on was family members and herself. It allowed her and her family to live a life that she couldn’t have otherwise lived.”
Simmerman is a “kind and decent woman” who has no criminal background, Davis told the court. “She is and will remain publicly humiliated until the day she dies.”
Simmerman pleaded guilty in August to embezzlement from a credit union, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. In exchange for her plea, federal prosecutors agreed not to file charges against her husband and sons. Sentencing guidelines for Simmerman recommended a term of between 6 ½ and 8 years.
Her criminal behavior “substantially jeopardized the safety and soundness” of Shoreline, causing the credit union’s net worth ratio to drop below 2 percent, taking it to the brink of insolvency, Stiffler said.
More than $1.2 million of the embezzled funds was covered by the credit union’s insurance policy. “They know they’re going to be made whole. It was not in jeopardy,” Davis said in asking for a sentence within guidelines.
Simmerman cooked the books to reflect a comfortable net worth ratio of 12½ percent, when in reality it was less than 2 percent, the government said.
Her 2014 take was $319,000, court records show. She was able to pocket $23,000 last year before auditors on Feb. 20 reported the embezzlement to Norton Shores police. Simmerman was fired from the credit union a week later.
The amount pilfered represents 86 percent of the earnings the small, single-branch credit union retained over its 62 years of existence, Stiffler said.
The credit union on Estes Street, established in 1953, serves about 4,100 employees and retirees from about 18 Muskegon County companies. Its members are designated as low-income.