WAILUKU - A former Lahaina Carpet & Interiors employee is serving a one-year jail term for stealing more than $180,000 from the business, which its owner said has struggled to recover.
Rochele Sanches, 29, of Kahului had $10,000 to pay toward restitution, her attorney said during her sentencing Friday.
"But for this $10,000 payment being made today, you would be definitely going to prison today," 2nd Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo told Sanches.
She noted that Lahaina Carpet owner David Byars and other employees had treated Sanches well, promoting her and allowing her to bring her children and new puppy to work. Byars had given Sanches and her fiance a Mexican Riviera cruise that Byars had won.
"They treated you pretty much like gold," Loo told Sanches. "You pulled the carpet out from under their feet. People lost their jobs, people had to work twice as hard for less money. They almost went under."
Sanches had pleaded no contest to first-degree theft, with the prosecution dismissing 36 counts of second-degree forgery in exchange for her plea.
Her job was handling accounts payable for the business when she forged company checks to steal about $10,000 a month for over a year, company employees said. The checks, in amounts ranging from $1,500 to more than $7,000, were forged from July 2007 to October 2008, according to court records.
In court Friday, Byars said a driver was laid off and the company sold a forklift while Sanches was stealing from the 42-year-old business.
"We were on the brink of extinction," he said. "And she was right there at that time, knowing full well we were up against this incredible financial difficulty, and still writing checks to herself. It's just incomprehensible.
"I feel for Rochele, but it affected an awful lot more people than one person. We are just now pulling out of this tragedy, and it was all caused because of this money."
Defense attorney Matthew Nardi asked the judge to sentence Sanches to 52 weekends in jail so she could continue to work and help support her three children and her fiance's two children. He also asked that any jail term be delayed until mid-January, when her fiance, a mixed-martial artist, has a significant fight scheduled.
"She has completely and fully acknowledged her guilt, has never once tried to minimize it," Nardi said. "This is truly out of character for her."
He said the thefts were a sign of deep-rooted mental health issues stemming from Sanches' childhood.
"For her, it was never about the money," Nardi said. "This completed a neural circuit in her brain that was a substitute for love."
"I am truly sorry, embarrassed and ashamed for what I have done," Sanches said in court. "I also hate myself because I know my actions will continue to cause all those people so much pain."
But Deputy Prosecutor Lewis Littlepage opposed any delay and weekends in jail, arguing for longer incarceration.
"She has no remorse," Littlepage said. "I think her only remorse is the fact that she was caught."
Loo referred to reports that Sanches had bought new computers, new phones, an Xbox, Wii and breast implants.
"What you bought were things you did not need," Loo said. "You were a money-hungry person, and these people suffered because of you.
"They treated you like family, and you treated them heartlessly."
Sanches was placed on five years' probation and ordered to pay $183,647 in restitution. She also was ordered not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs and to obtain mental health treatment. She was ordered not to enter Lahaina Carpet & Interiors.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.