Calling her a "predator," U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith on Friday sentenced an Easton woman to six years in federal prison for embezzling more than $400,000 from a Whitehall Township repo agency where she worked.
Felicia Straub, 42, misused her company credit card, using company accounts to pay her personal bills, including Victoria's Secret and Coach purchases, after gaining the trust of the late owner of the family business, Michael Yaroma.
Straub was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $419,331 to Joanne Yaroma, the owner's 74-year-old widow, $39,959 to PNC Bank and $136,364 to the Internal Revenue Service.
In September, Straub pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of tax evasion.
At the sentencing, family members said Joanne Yaroma had come to every court hearing because she wanted the court to know that Straub's crimes weren't against some faceless corporation but a family business.
The son of a coal miner and waitress from Shenandoah, Michael Yaroma raised a family of five in Whitehall and, as he began putting them through college, launched the repo agency, Financial Adjusters Inc. He eventually paid himself a salary, which averaged $12 an hour, in hopes that the business would one day be his retirement, family members testified.
He did not use computers — not even for email — and gave Straub, who was hired in 2003, sole access to accounting software for the business. The company recovers cars and other merchandise from people who stop making loan payments.
It wasn't until late 2010 that Yaroma began to suspect that someone was stealing from the company.
In November 2010, Yaroma discovered that the IRS had placed a lien on the company's funds because it had fallen behind on its Social Security and Medicare contributions and its own federal income tax.
Straub initially admitted stealing from the company after its offices on MacArthur Road burned in a December 2010 fire that investigators flagged as suspicious.
Yaroma's daughter, a certified public accountant who works for the FBI, helped her father untangle the extent of the crime.
In her tearful testimony before the judge, Straub read an email she had sent Yaroma, which was printed out for him to read. She said there were no words to describe her regret. She said there was something wrong with her, and it felt like "something living in my brain." She said she loved him and is ashamed.
"I feel like a monster," she said, reading from the email in court.
Yaroma died in December 2011.
Family members say Yaroma was deeply hurt by Straub's betrayal and felt stupid for not uncovering the deception earlier.
A month before her husband died, Joanne Yaroma said, he told her he didn't want revenge, only justice.
"As I write this," Joanne Yaroma said, reading from a statement, "I wish I could be so kind … I don't think Felicia is sorry for anything she did. I just think she is sorry she got caught."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kishan Nair said Straub's acknowledgment of responsibility is "marginal acceptance."
He said she has since "shockingly worked her way into a position of trust" with a "competitor" of Yaroma's business — whose owners testified Friday on Straub's behalf — and noted that she had stolen money from the business she worked for before Yaroma.
In 1999, Straub, then known as Felicia Anne Frey, was placed under house arrest after pleading guilty in Lehigh County for stealing $46,000 from a Papa John's Pizza franchise in South Whitehall Township where she worked as a bookkeeper.
In federal court, Straub had 13 people testify in her defense. The mother of three, they described her as a loving parent whose absence would upend the family. They praised her for her work as a team parent to her daughter's tournament volleyball team and for helping friends who were going through recovery.
Her primary care physicians said she has anxiety and depression and had childhood issues, including living in foster homes and homelessness.
The Yaroma family has since sold the repo business.