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Woman gets 27 months for embezzling $1.4 million from union


A federal judge sentenced a woman to 27 months in prison yesterday for conspiring to embezzle $1.4 million from the Baltimore-area Ironworkers union, but it was little consolation for ironworkers who said the woman's thievery dearly cost them.

"I have not been to a dentist in two years because we lost our dental and optical benefits as a result of this theft," said Gary L. Quesenberry, one of about a dozen ironworkers who went to U.S. District Court in Baltimore to hear the sentencing of Kristen Kupfer-Lovin, 29.

Also at the courthouse was James Shiflett, the business manager for Iron Workers Local No. 16, from which the money was stolen.

"The sentence was within the federal guidelines, but I don't think it was enough considering the money that was taken," remarked Mr. Shiflett, who said the union's health fund nearly collapsed because of the embezzlement. "A lot of people would take a few years in jail for a million dollars."

Judge Marvin J. Garbis also ordered that Kupfer-Lovin pay $14,400 in restitution to the ironworkers. Investigators are still trying to find at least $200,000 that was stolen.

Ms. Kupfer-Lovin, of the North Point area, worked in the benefits office for the union, which represents more than 1,000 ironworkers at construction sites in Maryland and surrounding states.

Over 4 1/2 years, Kupfer-Lovin and another employee, Sandra M. Edwards, 39, wrote about 265 checks to themselves. Edwards pleaded guilty last month and is to be sentenced April 26.

A financial statement submitted as part of Kupfer-Lovin's plea agreement says that her purchases in recent years included a 1993 Ford Explorer, five dirt bikes and a boat. It also lists nearly $20,000 in credit card debts.

Kupfer-Lovin, who estimated her assets to be worth about $40,000, claimed to have lent money to 23 people from 1989 to 1993. On her financial statement, she wrote, "I cannot determine amounts given or dates given due to the fact of the time span and the various people."

Dr. Michael Spodak, a psychiatrist who evaluated Kupfer-Lovin last year, testified yesterday that he believed she stole huge amounts of money in order to compensate for deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy.

"She indicated she has always felt very badly about herself," Dr. Spodak said. "I consider the stealing behavior to be acting-out behavior. She was trying to buy love, buy relationships. She thought by paying people she could avoid the enormous discomfort of abandonment."

Dr. Spodak said Kupfer-Lovin had an emotionally troubled childhood and suffered from weight problems and depression. He said she continually spent her stolen money on other people, including her boyfriend, because she feared that they would not like her otherwise.

Kupfer-Lovin told Judge Garbis that she was very sorry and ashamed, and she said her struggles to rear three children and keep her family together contributed to her bad judgment.

The judge was not swayed. "To just say this woman needed an awful lot of money to satisfy her emotional needs . . . I don't think the crime was significantly motivated by diminished capacity," Judge Garbis said. "A lot of hard-working people were hurt."

He sentenced Kupfer-Lovin to the maximum available under federal sentencing guidelines.

The ironworkers at the hearing said they had little sympathy for the one-time trusted worker. They said the health plan once offered 100 percent coverage, but had to scale back to 50-50 coverage after the embezzlement.

"This wasn't a case of some random hacker breaking into our computers. This woman worked [with us] and knew firsthand the toll this theft was inflicting on us," Mr. Quesenberry told the judge.

Russell Hatch, the financial secretary for the union, told Judge Garbis, "She abused the trust we put in her. We've got to send a message that you can't do these crimes and walk."

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