PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday sentenced Deborah Cassini to three and a half years in prison for embezzling some $600,000 from her former employer -Three Rivers Volkswagen in Peters Township.

“It’s been very difficult. I have 40 employees. They needed their paychecks,” said Kathi Tennant, the owner of the dealership. “Just struggling, try to make ends meet. We almost got padlocked three times.”

The former office manager is accused of spending the money on her credit cards and her BMW, but much of it disappeared into the slot machines of our local casino and others out-of-state.

“She would find relief at the casinos by really going into a different life, a life of no worry, of no concern, just hitting buttons on the slot machine,” said Doug Shugrue, Cassini’s attorney.

But Cassini isn’t the first local person to be convicted of embezzling her company to fund her gaming additions. She’s not even the first car dealership employee.

In 2008, office manager and admitted gambling addict Joyce Piansente plead guilty to stealing $400,000 from the former Arnold Pontiac in Houston, Pennsylvania.

“This addiction will take people to points and places they can’t even imagine they’re capable of going. They will have lost their moral compass,” says Jody Becthold, an addiction therapist.

The casinos say only 3 percent of gamblers become addicted, but the havoc those few can wreak can break businesses, families and the addicts themselves.

Becthold says while the pull of addiction is strong, it’s incumbent on the addict to avail themselves of the counseling the state provides under the Gaming Act.

“It’s not their fault that they have an addition, but they have a responsibility to take care of it and get the help that they need,” she says

Cassini hasn’t paid a cent in restitution and the cases keep coming.

Larry Winckler, the former CEO of the Marcellus Shale company – Falcon Energy, just plead guilty to embezzling $9 million d to feed what prosecutors call “an enormous ambling problem.”

Casino gambling is here to stay as is its ready convenience to the problem gambler, meaning we probably haven’t seen the last of these high-profile embezzlement cases.

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