The estimated loss is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but prosecutors say the total amount that Candace Wanzo, who served 15 months in the 1990s for previously embezzling $233,000 from Southern Illinois University, never will be known.
“Shockingly, the defendant’s scheme to defraud (while working for the secretary of state) continued over almost a decade, nine years” assistant U.S. attorney Greg Harris told U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough in asking for a 27-month sentence.
In settling on 18 months, the judge cited 20 letters of support written by her pastor, members of her church, friends and relatives. “Your letters of reference are the best I have ever seen,” Myerscough told Wanzo, who dabbed her eyes with a tissue and appeared ready to cry during the video sentencing hearing. The judge ordered also ordered Wanzo to pay more than $72,500 in restitution.
Restitution was calculated based on records from the Illinois Department of Revenue and photocopies of cash that Wanzo’s staff, fearful of being accused of theft themselves, made over a three-month period before fraud was found. Wanzo, the prosecutor said, had reversed a longstanding policy of not accepting cash payments from the public and ordered her staff to hand over currency at the end of each day in a yellow envelope. She also manufactured a complaint form for her staff to fill out when complaints about not getting license plates or titles were received, Harris said, and she ordered that the invented forms be delivered to her. The secretary of state’s inspector general during a search of Wanzo’s office found hundreds of license plates and registration tags along with more than $155,000 in uncashed checks and money orders made out to the state, some dating back to 2004, when the scheme came to light in 2017.
Based in Springfield, Wanzo was a top supervisor in the vehicle licensing division. Harris said she forced her staff to enable thievery.
“The defendant bullied, intimidated and coerced her staff to further her corrupt scheme by threatening to have them transferred or even terminated,” Harris said.
At the edge of sobs, Wanzo, who pleaded guilty last year, apologized for stealing, but she denied bullying anyone. “I never threatened anyone,” she told the judge. “I had no power to fire anyone.”
Wanzo also said that she was a good employee who worked six days a week and worked for charitable causes on behalf of the secretary of state. She said she stayed up throughout nights caring for her mother, who died of breast cancer in 2016, while working days at her state job. “I’ve gone through a lot the past five years,” she told the judge. “I want everyone to know how sorry I am. I am a different person now. I have lost so much.”
Howard Feldman, Wanzo’s lawyer, told the judge that his client has “significant” funds in a retirement account to pay restitution. She also has paid $70,000 in restitution to Southern Illinois University to make up for money she stole during the 1990s while working in the bursar’s office. His client, the lawyer told Myerscough, found a job last August that pays a bit more than minimum wage.
As a thief who stole during the course of her state employment, Wanzo, who was hired by the secretary of state in 1999, won’t receive pension benefits. She was paid $87,238 in 2016, the year before her crimes were discovered.
“As a crime, this makes no sense,” Feldman said. “What she’s lost in pension benefits far exceeds what she ever would have gained.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.