Ex-bookkeeper for a Delaware River waterfront agency was limited to more than 4 years for embezzling $2.6M


A former bookkeeper for the government-backed nonprofit that manages Penn’s Landing, Spruce Street Harbor Park, and other riverfront attractions was amounting to roughly 4½ years in prison Mondays for embezzling more than $2.6 million from the organization.

Angela DiPietro-Sabatine, who managed the finances of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. from 1996 to 2019, used the money she stole over seven years to fuel a gambling habit and fund resort vacations in the Bahamas and Hawaii.

But as she stood before US District Judge Joshua Wolson for sentencing Monday, she laid out a much darker reason for her theft. DiPietro-Sabatine, 58, of Pennsauken, explained she’d been trapped in an abusive marriage at the time with a man who she said stole her money for gambling and to feed an addiction to crack cocaine.

She began taking money from work and gambling with it on her own, she said, in hopes of paying off debts and eventually winning enough to repay the cash she’d stolen.

“Somehow it all snowballed,” she told the judge, wiping her eyes and speaking softly from the courtroom lectern as the nonprofit’s executives sat behind her in the courtroom gallery. “Somehow the more I would take, the more he would gamble or plan a vacation. … I can’t express how unbearably sorry I’ve been, I am, and will continue to be.”

Wolson, though expressing sympathy for DiPietro-Sabatine’s plight, said he did not believe she ever had any intention of paying the DRWC back before her crimes were discovered in 2019. She pleaded guilty earlier this year to counts of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and bank fraud.

“To have repaid this money would have been by its nature to risk detection,” Wolson said.

In addition to the prison term of 51 months, the judge ordered DiPietro-Sabatine to serve three years’ probation upon her release, attend treatment for gambling addiction, and pay back to her former employer the money she stole.

Established to develop the publicly owned waterfront land between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues, the DRWC has launched and manages several recreational destinations such as Penn’s Landing, the Spruce Street Harbor Park, and the Blue Cross RiverRink festivals.

DiPietro-Sabatine had worked for the organization as an accountant since 1996 but only began embezzling during her last seven years.

She used her access to the DRWC’s books to draw up fake invoices, cut checks payable to herself, and forge signatures of nonprofit executives so she could transfer money into her account.

Because she listed the withdrawals as payments to legitimate vendors, the organization’s auditors failed to notice the missing money until after she’d been fired in 2019 for what a DRWC spokesperson has described as unrelated performance issues.

And by 2015, her scheme had become so successful, Assistant US Attorney Nancy E. Potts said, DiPietro-Sabatine was embezzling more than a half-million dollars a year.

“While her circumstances at home may have been extremely difficult, what she did in this case were her actions, her choices, her decisions,” Potts said.

Prosecutors have previously said DiPietro-Sabatine spent at least $10,000 of her ill-gotten cash at area casinos each month. In one instance, she lost more than $34,000 during a 2017 gambling trip to California.

The rest went toward trips to Lake Tahoe, Disney World, the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, and the Hawaiian Disney Resort.

As DiPietro-Sabatine and her lawyer, Nino V. Tinari, told the court Monday, she took most of those trips in hopes of winning a big casino jackpot and paying back the money she’d taken.

Potts dismissed their explanation as a “fallacy” and noted DiPietro-Sabatine never paid one dime back to the DRWC.

“At any point she could have told her employer what was happening,” she said. “At any point she could have halted what she was doing. But that never happened.”

At the time of her arrest, DRWC officials described DiPietro-Sabatine’s theft as significant but said they did not expect it to drastically affect the organization’s future operations because it had been spread out over several years.

In a statement Monday, DRWC president Joseph Forkin said that he was “deeply troubled” by DiPietro-Sabatine’s abuse of trust and that the organization would continue to pursue repayment from her.

“While the DRWC has implemented a number of protections to ensure that it does not happen again,” he said, “we think that the sentence was appropriate given the incision of the crime.”

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