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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Former Binghamton-area banker sentenced for embezzling client's money in New York

BINGHAMTON -- A former local bank manager will spend four years in federal prison for embezzling $410,000 in cash from a Dickinson man's safety deposit box, a judge said Tuesday.

Thomas Cararo, 40, now of North Carolina, can spend the holidays with his family, wife and children, but he'll have to surrender Jan. 4 to officers with the U.S. Marshals Service to begin serving his sentence, said Senior U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. McAvoy during Cararo's sentencing in Binghamton's federal court.
McAvoy told Cararo that while taking the money was "despicable," Cararo also had a clean record until the embezzlement.
"You can be pushed into a position where you don't use your judgment," McAvoy said.
The judge gave Cararo less prison time than federal sentencing guidelines recommend as the minimum, which is four years, 11 months.
The former Citizens Bank branch manager could have received up to 30 years for his June 11 jury conviction on a single count of embezzlement.
"This whole experience has humbled me in so many ways, more ways than I can even tell you," Cararo told McAvoy. "I loved what I did. I loved my job working in a bank."
Cararo will also have to pay back the $410,000 -- $256,000 to Leonard Wilcox and $154,000 to Cararo's former employer, Citizens Bank.
The bank reimbursed Wilcox with $154,000, the amount of cash that bank records indicated was exchanged as damaged or destroyed.
Wilcox testified at Cararo's trial that he kept about $484,000 in cash in a floor safe in the garage to his house in the Town of Dickinson. But in 2006 flooding, the cash was soaked and contaminated by sewage.
Wilcox testified he exchanged the damaged cash for new money at the Chenango Bridge branch of Citizens Bank, where Cararo was then the branch manager.
Bank records showed about $154,000 in damaged or contaminated money was exchanged. However, tellers at the bank testified at trial that they exchanged thousands in cash with Wilcox that wasn't recorded as damaged.
Wilcox testified he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in a shopping bag in October 2006 to the 84 Court St. location of Citizens Bank, where Cararo was transferred as bank manager,
Wilcox put the cash in a safe deposit box, he testified. When he returned on Nov. 7, 2007, to check on his money, the box had been redrilled and rekeyed. When box No. 418 was opened, all that remained of the $410,000 was $74,000, Wilcox testified.

Cararo left Citizens in August 2007 for a job with Bank of America in North Carolina. Box No. 418 was drilled and rekeyed in June 2007 at the direction of Cararo, witnesses testified in June.
An FBI investigation of Cararo's bank records showed Cararo used cash payments of up to $65,000 to pay for home improvements and renovations, as well as furniture, at two houses he owned in the Town of Dickinson -- one street over from Wilcox's residence.
However, the FBI investigation could not account for the amount of cash Cararo was alleged to have taken.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Walsh, who prosecuted the case, on Tuesday called McAvoy's sentencing of Cararo fair.
Cararo's attorney, federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles, didn't agree with that assessment.
"I think it's really sad," Peebles said. "I don't believe for a second (Wilcox) lost more than $400,000."

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