A former loan officer who stole $179,000 from a Bensenville credit union and spent some of the money on tickets to a Jay-Z concert and an extreme cage-fighting match was spared prison Monday by a DuPage County judge.
Desiree Cortes, 31, pleaded guilty in September to the theft from Bensenville Community Credit Union. Judge George Bakalis on Monday sentenced her to two months in jail followed by 290 days of jail work-release. She also must serve 36 months of probation and pay restitution.
"If it weren't for your children, you would be going to the penitentiary," Bakalis told the defendant.
Cortes, of Bensenville, went to her boss in December and confessed she had used her position as a loan officer to secretly open five unauthorized credit cards. The disclosure came as the credit union prepared to launch a new computer system that would allow other employees to see how many accounts she had open.
A subsequent audit showed that in less than four years, Cortes amassed $179,000 in charges for everything from utility bills and doctor visits to video games, airfare and entertainment, including the Jay-Z concert, cage-fighting match and a trip to Disney World.
In a pre-sentence report, Cortes said she stole because she didn't want her five children to "lose out on experiences" or to put too much of a financial burden on her husband, according to Assistant State's Attorney Diane Michalak.
"If she was truly worried about her children, she wouldn't have done it in the first place," Michalak said in seeking a six-year prison term.
Wiping away tears, Cortes apologized to former co-workers seated in the courtroom gallery Monday. She pleaded for the judge to keep her out of prison so she could continue to provide for her children.
"I'm very sorry for betraying the trust that was placed on me," Cortes said, adding that she had been mentally ill and struggling with alcoholism. "I was trying to provide my family a perfect existence, which I now realize is not real."
Defense attorney James Etchingham said Cortes started out trying to help her family but "spiraled out of control."
Bakalis said it appeared Cortes stole to make herself and her family "feel good" without thinking of the consequences.
"This is not a situation where you're trying to maintain your family's existence," he said. "This is a lifestyle that very, very, very few people are able to maintain."
The theft had a far-reaching impact on the credit union, which is Illinois' oldest, according to President and CEO Roger Peters. Peters said the union's insurance deductible went from $1,000 to $10,000, and its insurer is now re-evaluating whether to continue carrying it. If not, "We will be shut down," he testified.
Cortes was taken into custody Monday to begin serving her sentence. She had no prior criminal history but faced up to 15 years in prison because the stolen funds exceeded $100,000.