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$400K theft from organization helping seniors lands woman in prison

A 49-year-old woman was sentenced to prison Tuesday for stealing from a business that provided HVAC and other maintenance services to residents of Sun City Center.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 12:15 p.m. April 24, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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A 49-year-old Riverview woman has been sentenced to federal prison for embezzling more than $400,000 from an organization that provides maintenance services to residents at Sun City Center in Hillsborough County. 

Victoria Zerillo was sentenced Tuesday to 18 months and ordered to forfeit $410,963.78 by U.S. District Judge Thomas Barber.

Zerillo pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud for embezzling funds and using the money for herself, including taking luxury vacations.

According to a statement from the U.S Department of Justice, the plea agreement and a sentencing memorandum, Zerillo was working as the general manager for KPW Service Association, an organization that provided HVAC, appliance and plumbing repair services for residents of Sun City Center. Sun City is a 55-and-older community in Hillsborough County.

As the general manager, her responsibilities between 2015 and 2022 included overseeing schedules, paying vendors, collecting payments from residents and making payments, as well as controlling bank accounts and bookkeeping.

Zerillo admits in the plea agreement to taking advantage of her position and diverting money from the organization to herself. That includes making cash withdrawals totaling $286,309.98 from ATMs. She also made $40,508.17 in purchases using a debit card. Among the charges were four stays at a Clearwater Beach resort.

She also used $84,145.63 to pay on her personal credit cards.

To cover up her actions, prosecutors says she created false and fraudulent bank statements and destroyed records.

Zerillo did not act alone. The plea agreement and the statement refer to “co-conspirators” and “others” involved in the scheme. But, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa, she is the only one facing consequences. “There were no charged/named co-conspirators in this case.”

KPW, according to its website, charges residents a membership fees for plans that allow resident to get “their appliances, air conditioning and heat repaired or in some cases replaced without having to pay for costly service fees, parts, tax or labor.”

Memberships range from $520 per year to $750 per year.

The embezzlement had a huge impact on KPW and its ability to meet its responsibilities to residents. The organization, which did not respond to a request for comment, laid out the effect of the theft in a newsletter sent to members in December.

In the newsletter, KPW says in October 2022 “our appliance repair cooperative faced a devastating blow” when it discovered “a massive theft of over $650,000 leaving us with depleted funds and a shaken foundation.”

Without mentioning Zerillo by name, KPW says it was left unable to maintain financial support for repairs, dealt with board resignations and layoffs and neared insolvency.

The justice department says several residents testified at the sentencing hearing about how Zerillo’s embezzlement “significantly harmed them financially.”

KPW says it has “made significant” progress” since discovering the theft, implementing new systems, hiring personnel and recovering some of the stolen funds.

In the sentencing memorandum, Zerillo’s attorney, Kathleen Sweeney, writes that the embezzlement began “as a way to support her family” and to “set up a then-boyfriend in a business that she hoped would motivate him to lessen his drinking and abuse.”

Instead, the man “used the proceeds to drink and purchase personal items” the memorandum says. The couple broke up in 2017, and despite that, she continued to embezzle the funds.

“Like many embezzlers, she intended to repay KPW and is committed to repaying the funds,” writes Sweeney. “There has not been a meeting that undersigned counsel has had with Ms. Zerillo in which she has not expressed remorse.”

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer L. Peresie.



Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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