VIP seating for Mass with the pope. A private lunch prepared by the Barefoot Contessa at her barn in the Hamptons. A $5,600 autographed first edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Those were among the luxuries Patricia Smith and her family enjoyed for nearly seven years, courtesy of her job at Baierl Acura in suburban Pittsburgh.
But they weren't fringe benefits. The dealership didn't know it was paying for them until last summer, when Smith, the store's controller, abruptly quit and confessed to embezzling more than $10 million.
Smith, 58, told authorities she transferred money to her personal accounts about 800 times, and falsified inventory records and bank statements to cover up her misdeeds. She told friends and family -- some of whom she gave houses and cars -- that her new lifestyle was made possible by a fortuitous airline-stock purchase and work as an online travel agent, according to court documents and local news reports.
She spent $1.8 million to charter private jets, traveling to seven countries in Europe and four Caribbean islands. She paid $44,500 for club-level seats at last year's Super Bowl. She had dinner with actor Kevin Spacey. She bought a 4,300-square-foot home for herself and three other houses for two sons and a nephew. She bought 10 vehicles, keeping a 2011 Honda Crosstour for herself and giving the rest to family, including a Ford Shelby Mustang convertible to her husband and a Honda motorcycle to a son.
In May, a federal judge sentenced Smith, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and cooperated with investigators, to 78 months in prison for what he called "mind-boggling" behavior.
While the amount Smith admitted to taking -- it averages about $4,000 a day, seven days a week -- is extreme, numerous auto dealerships fall victim to embezzlement every year, experts say. Many thefts are committed by longtime seemingly loyal employees who have access to large amounts of money yet receive little oversight.