The former chief financial officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will spend the next two to seven years in state prison for embezzling more than $900,000 from the Church over seven years.
Common Pleas Court Judge Ellen Ceisler sentenced Anita Guzzardi, 44, to prison at a hearing Aug. 24 in Philadelphia on her third-degree felony conviction of theft by deception. Guzzardi will also serve seven years’ probation on two other convictions, forgery and unlawful use of a computer. She had pleaded guilty to the three charges July 29.
Guzzardi sat downcast in a black business suit with her hair tied back as assistant district attorney Lisa Caulfield described what she called the “lavish lifestyle” Guzzardi fueled through funds she embezzled in her work as a trusted senior financial officer of the Archdiocese.
Beginning in late 2004, Caulfield said, Guzzardi began to write archdiocesan checks to cover her expenses on her American Express credit card. The deception grew to a second Amex card and a Chase card, expenses for which she covered by cutting more than 300 checks over time totaling $906,000.
Those expenses included frequent business trips in which she included family and friends, plus vacations to Hawaii, Las Vegas, the Bahamas and other locales, together with shopping sprees for clothes, gifts and flowers for herself, family and friends.
After her promotion from archdiocesan controller to CFO in 2011, Guzzardi was fired by the Archdiocese as a result of a joint probe by American Express, the Philadelphia District Attorney and archdiocesan investigators.
Caulfield rejected the contention of defense lawyer Louis R. Busica that Guzzardi’s diagnosed gambling addiction – she frequently racked up bills from casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. – somehow clouded her judgment and was to blame for the embezzlement, or because of financial need.
Caulfield pointed out Guzzardi earned a six-figure salary as archdiocesan controller and later CFO, and with her husband’s income, made the couple, who have no children, well off.
“It wasn’t impulse, it wasn’t because she needed the money,” Caulfield said. “She thought about it, disguised it, changed the amounts and dates of checks” to conceal her actions. “She knew what she was doing. It was not a reckless impulse. When you steal money and don’t need it, that’s plain greed.”
Busica argued his client’s gambling addiction, depression and features of compulsive gambling and shopping in her childhood should mitigate a stiff sentence for the crime to which she pleaded guilty June 29.
He also argued that the 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report on sexual misconduct of priests toward minors, and the archdiocesan responses to the scandal, exacerbated Guzzardi’s gambling addiction as she coped with the revelations.
Judge Ceisler sided with Caulfield’s argument that Guzzardi’s embezzlement had begun before the October 2005 report was issued. The thefts peaked from 2007 to 2009, especially on items such as outfitting a new home in upscale Haddon Heights, N.J., and travel, shopping and meal expenses.
Even after a second grand jury in early 2011, Guzzardi used her ability to write checks to make extra payments on her home mortgage principal, right up to her dismissal in July of that year.
In her closing statement, Guzzardi apologized through tears and a choking voice to some 20 family members and friends in the courtroom, to the Philadelphia Archdiocese and to her husband, “for putting you through this torment and grief.”
“If it takes the rest of my life, I will try to make up for all the betrayal and lies I have caused so many people,” she said. “I have a remorseful heart.”
In a statement, the Archdiocese said insurance will cover losses from the theft, but emphasized the breaking of trust Guzzardi had earned during her tenure from “legitimate service to pastors, administrators and parishes.”
“While the damage was contained, the fact that Mrs. Guzzardi hurt the very people she spent her life serving is deeply troubling,” the statement said. “This is a difficult day for the many friends and co-workers who feel betrayed and confused by her actions. We trust the court to determine an appropriate sentence, balancing her genuine service against a serious crime that impacted so many people.”
Guzzardi has paid back $260,000 in restitution to the Archdiocese since her arrest. Her lawyer argued she should be allowed avoid jail time and to continue working to pay back the remaining $646,000.
Ceisler did not agree, saying house arrest and probation alone would be “a slap on the wrist,” a not serve as a public deterrent. She also denied to set a later date for Guzzardi to report for prison.
As a result, Guzzardi tearfully rose from her table to be led away by sheriff’s deputies for processing, amid the sobs of her supporters in the courtroom.
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I am very disappointed with the on-line version of the Philadelphia Catholic Standard and Times. (1) it would seem that news stories are typically updated only once a week; (2) Archbishop Chaput’s weekly article hasn’t appeared since June 21st. I suspect that readership can be counted on one hand.
CatholicPhilly.com is updated every weekday or every other weekday, sometimes at night, sometimes on a weekend. For instance, we might upload a commentary piece that you might not notice because it does not appear at the top of the page; the same goes for an international story or a calendar of events item. Those top stories, especially local stories, admittedly do not appear as frequently as I would like. Reasons for this are budgetary restrictions that mean one editor answering phones and managing every aspect of the business, plus one freelance writer, can only do so much; and because it is July and August, there is a dearth of local news. This will change in the fall when activity increases in parishes and schools. This is fairly typical. Archbishop Chaput also will begin writing again in September. As you ought to appreciate, the archbishop has been asked to handle more than anyone could imagine in his first year as our shepherd. Even though I am the editor and I’d like to have his column every week, I understand he needs this summer respite to better serve the church and proclaim the Gospel effectively — as do we all. Finally, monthly traffic is up significantly since June, some 50%, and especially year over year. Considering these gains have been made at a time of year where tyopically traffic drops because of vacations and the like, this is good news for us. People also have responded positively to new initiatives such as our free weekly email newsletter and mobile device apps. So there’s a lot to like. I hope you can temper your disappointment and join in our positive outlook.
The sentencing seems appropriate to the crime. If she can repay the money and serve her time, then the most significant and long-term damage will be to her husband and family. Who, by the way, should have questioned her money habits a long time ago. Unless they were also too greedy to acknowledge what was happening.
She certainly got a lighter sentence than Monsignor Lynn.
What she did was wrong and brought distress over herself and her family BUT she didn’t cover up for disgusting things that RUINED many people’s life forever.