Gripped by a gambling addiction, she stole $20 or $30 of taxpayer’s cashat a timeand fed it into the slots at Indiana casinos.
But over the years the lootformerBurnham Village Clerk Nancy Dobrowskitook from thevillage cash registeradded up to more than $650,000.
And on Tuesday, the 70-year-old finally paid the price, when she was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras toldDobrowski — the tiny working class South suburb’s top vote getter for decades — thatshe should be ashamed for displaying the“height of betrayal and hypocrisy” for “pillaging” from “blue collar people who have trouble putting food on the table at times.”
Held in one of the smallestcourtrooms in Chicago’s downtown Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Dobrowski’s hour longsentencing hearing had the feel of a classic Frank Capra movie.
One after another, village officials who felt personally betrayed by Dobrowski stood up to berate her as she leaned on a walker in tears. The town’s small size— its population is just 4,206 —meant most residents knew her, and that her nine year embezzlement scam had a direct impact on police and fire services, they said.
Burnham Mayor Robert Polk told the judge, “I trusted her, I trusted her, I trusted her,” explaining that many creditors were now reluctant to work with the village because of Dobrowski’s crime.Polk said he’d several times asked Dobrowski to account for irregularities in the village’s finances, but “the third time I went to her it was too late because the feds were coming through the door.”
And Burnham Police Sgt. Jack Daley said “As a police officer I prided myself for getting criminals off the street — I never saw you that way.”
Angrily telling Dobrowski that officers took pay cuts and used faulty equipment so that she could be “treated like a Queen with all of your comps and meals at the casinos,” he added, “I for one am disgusted!”
Fire Chief Andrew Horberg also said that fire services had suffered.
But a sobbing Dobrowskiapologized for her crimes, claiming a gambling addiction had “overtaken me” when she kept village towing fees and other taxpayer cash for herself.
“I don’t go to sleep at night,” she said. “I think that everybody hates me for what I’ve done… I pray that I don’t wake up in the morning.”
“I’m so sorry I let the people down. I loved them so much.”
But Kocoras told Dobrowski in front of apacked courtroom that “You say you loved all of these people but for years and years and years you betrayed them,”calling stealing her “other addiction.”
“You never once sought help,” the judge said.
Kocoras also said the casinos thatfed her addiction by giving her free meals and perks should share in the blame. “Shame on them!” he said.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of three to four years, while Dobrowksi’s lawyers had asked for probation.
The judge said a prison term was necessary to promote “the dignity of the law,” but that Dobrowski’sadvanced age and health problems meant she should get a discount. Though he ordered her to pay restitution to the village, he said he recognized that the money was “lost” and that taxpayers shouldn’t expect much.
“I’m sorry that I have to do this, but I must,” he said.