Imagine if some young punk broke into a business one night and stole money from a safe in the back of the office.
He'd no doubt be looking at a lengthy stay in a 9-by-11-foot prison cell, maybe 10 or 15 years.
But what if he apologized to the business owner and said he'd pay it all back? No harm, no foul. Let’s forget the whole thing. Would all then be forgiven and forgotten?
Or let's take it to a level we can all relate to. You're a parent and your child steals money from your purse. Does he get off without any punishment at all? Would you not, maybe, take away his cell phone privileges for a month or even send him to his room to teach him a lesson?
It's an absurd proposition that for some reason is being extended to the former chef and part-owners of a popular Saratoga Springs restaurant.
John LaPosta and Tina Kruger have pleaded guilty in connection with an "elaborate scheme" to steal more than $200,000 from Maestro's restaurant over a period of three years. Basically, they funneled money from gift cards and cash events into their own personal bank accounts.
We're not talking chump change, here. We're talking $200,000. The average bank robbery nets about $4,300, the average convenience story robbery a little less than $800. And it wasn’t a one-time mistake. They did this crime over years.
The couple says they can repay $175,000 of they stole. And in exchange for a guilty plea, they're both going to get probation. Not a day of jail time. By law, LaPosta could get 15 years in prison and his partner, Kruger, could get time in the county jail. But instead, they're set free.
Since when do you get a mulligan on theft?
What message does that send to victims or criminals, or really anyone, about the fairness of the judicial system? You've been victimized, you lost the use of that money for all those months, and all the perpetrators get is a hand-slap if they agree to return the money?
How about relieving them of the money they stole and sending them to prison?
Punishment is supposed to act as a deterrent, both for the people who might consider committing the crime again and for the rest of society. What's the deterrent for scammers who basically end up back where they started after committing their crimes?
Where's the compensation for all the time and taxpayer money that the police and the investigators in the district attorney's office spent peeling away at the layers of this couple's scam, hours and money that could have been spent investigating other crimes? Who is paying restitution to the citizens?
And how has this effected the perpetrators of this crime? They've already opened a new restaurant in Latham. They say the Parmesan tater tots are to die for. How were they able to get a business license and a liquor license? Will that all be revoked after they're sentenced or will they be able to go on their merry way?
Maybe this is the way society treats white-collar crime these days — a slap on the wrist, a promise to return the money and a pledge not to do it again.
But it seems like these people are being afforded some special privileges that those with less money and less stature in the community might not. And that promotes mistrust of the entire judicial system.
When it comes time to sentence these people next month, maybe the judge will consider all this and make the punishment fit the crime.