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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hammond, Indiana woman pleads guilty to embezzling $50,000 from Whiting bank

A former vice president of Whiting's Liberty Savings Bank pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzling more than $50,000 from the company over a two-year span.

Sherlynn M. Groat, 56, of Hammond, changed her plea Thursday morning in Hammond federal court and was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond that she will have to pay should she miss her next court date.

Groat was a veteran bank employee of more than 25 years before her criminal activity led to her dismissal in March, court records show. She now is working in a Strack & Van Til deli.

Between 2008 and 2010, Groat used her role as a Liberty Savings vice president to transfer the bank's money into her personal accounts, as well as steal money from customers' accounts. She now faces as many as 60 years in prison, 10 years supervised release and $2 million in fines.

"I took numerous steps to conceal my criminal conduct from the bank and the customers," Groat wrote in her November plea agreement.

During her embezzling spree, Groat increased the loan amounts of a bank customer without permission and placed the excess funds into her personal Liberty Savings accounts. In another case, Groat stole two checks intended as payment for a client's loan and cashed them for her personal use. She also opened a loan in the name of a customer without permission and withheld the person's year-end loan statement to hide the scheme.

Groat has repaid the tens of thousands of dollars she stole from the bank and its customers, including interest, court records show. And in exchange for her guilty plea and act of restitution, the prosecutors agreed to ask the court for the minimum sentence within the guideline range, which has yet to be calculated.

Joseph Shimala, president of Liberty Savings Bank, FSB, declined to talk about Groat or her case.

"I've been advised by legal counsel not to comment," Shimala said.

Groat's attorney, federal defender Ashwin Cattamanchi, also declined to comment. Groat is scheduled to be sentenced at 1 p.m. May 5 in Judge Rudy Lozano's courtroom.

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