VFW Post 1895 Commander Ginger Kusek told a judge Friday that the actions of former treasurer Paul Rizzo almost resulted in the post having to shut its doors.
Those actions by Rizzo, who was officially the Draper Avenue post’s quartermaster, amounted to more than $15,000 in documented thefts, Kusek told visiting Judge Frank P. Milano at Rizzo’s sentencing in Schenectady County Court.
“The money he stole may not be considered a large amount compared to other nonprofit organizations, but it did so much more,” Kusek told the judge in a statement. “It hurt the standing of the VFW in the community.”
She told the judge it also resulted in decreased support from members.
Rizzo, 32, of Woodbridge Avenue, pleaded guilty in October to one count of third-degree grand larceny in a deal worked out directly with Milano. On Friday, Milano sentenced him to five years of probation and no jail time, as agreed upon. But Milano gave Rizzo a stern warning to follow all the requirements of his probation or face prison time.
Afterward, Kusek said the post has implemented stringent new safeguards to ensure such thefts don’t happen again and to regain the trust of members and the community.
Rizzo’s attorney, Sven Paul, said his client is “very remorseful” for his actions. He also said Rizzo suffers from mental health issues and stress from the loss of a job. Rizzo made some “very poor” decisions, Paul said. Rizzo served in the Navy.
Because insurance covered most of the losses, restitution was only $100. In cases where insurance covers a victim’s losses, restitution is usually confined to the victim’s deductible.
That insurance payout helped, Kusek said, but went quickly as post officials sorted through the financial mess left behind. The larger damage was the decreased support, she said. Business at the post’s bar has been down 30 to 40 percent and support for fundraisers has also been down a similar amount.
Rizzo was accused of taking the money between December 2011 and July 2012. He was arrested in September 2012. The money was taken from several of the post’s accounts, including its charitable accounts. Rizzo also used a post debit card for personal use.
After Friday’s sentencing, Kusek said the post has instituted stringent checks to ensure multiple sets of eyes on its finances. Now, two other officers also have digital access to the post’s accounts, along with the quartermaster, she said. Revenues from the bar are also scrutinized by several people.
As for Rizzo’s sentence, Kusek said she felt both frustration and anger.
“We’re fighting to keep our doors open now so we can serve our veterans,” said Kusek, who is in the Army Reserve. “It’s like a slap in our face to us. I’ve had my members tell me that that’s a slap in the face. He’s not getting anything.”
Kusek said the money was taken from a fund used for holiday parties for community children, a relief fund used to make donations after a member passed away, and other programs.
“We couldn’t do any of that,” Kusek said. “We’re just getting to the point where we can do a little bit.”
The post is hosting a pancake breakfast from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday to benefit the March of Dimes.