LARGO — Sherri Lynn Ventresca stole for years from the two Palm Harbor cancer doctors she worked for, using millions of their money to buy four houses, motorcycles, a Ford sport utility vehicle and a Mercedes.
But she never made eye contact with the two oncologists at her sentencing hearing Friday, and did not mention them by name. Instead, she made a blanket apology to her own family and everyone else, and said, "I pray for forgiveness. I'm sorry."
If she glossed over the damage she caused, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip J. Federico did not.
He sentenced Ventresca, 51, of Tarpon Springs, to 12 years in prison followed by 18 years of probation. She had previously pleaded no contest to grand theft and scheming to defraud.
"It's been devastating, is the only way to describe it," Federico said.
"It appears the only reason for this was to further the lifestyle of somebody who wasn't satisfied making $35,000 a year."
Ventresca handled the books for doctors Anda Norbergs and Jay Rosen at their Palm Harbor practice and served, the judge noted, as the trusted adviser who was supposed to make sure their finances were handled properly.
Instead, she set up fake corporations that sounded like pharmaceutical companies. When she wrote out checks to herself, it looked like the doctors were paying for cancer drugs.
She stole more than $2 million in this and other ways from 2001 through 2007, said Detective Mitchell Reed of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. She bought one house for her son, one for her daughter, one for herself in Florida and one for herself in Indiana. She also bought several vehicles.
As she siphoned away money, the doctors could tell something was wrong, but couldn't pinpoint what. The practice was not making the money it should have.
At one point, the doctors could not pay for chemotherapy drugs, so they had to send their patients to outside hospitals instead of treating them in the comfort of their offices.
Disputes over money led doctors Norbergs and Rosen to sever their partnership, although they still did not know at that point they had been fleeced.
Norbergs ended up filing for bankruptcy. Rosen began practicing in Wyoming.
The scheme eventually unraveled when a pharmaceutical company complained about a bill that Norbergs knew should have been paid.
"I think what she did is horrible. I thought she was my friend," Rosen said during Friday's hearing.
"I'm still practicing, but it's extremely difficult," Norbergs said afterward.
She said the judge's word —devastating — was a good one to describe the ordeal. But she said she is happy that "I still have medicine. I can still take care of people."
Ventresca's attorney, Rohom Khonsari, pointed out that she had taken responsibility for her actions by pleading no contest to the charges against her.
When Ventresca gets out of prison, she must pay $500 a month in restitution. After six months, a judge will evaluate whether she should pay more. After Ventresca whispered in his ear, her attorney pointed out that it might be difficult for her to find another $35,000-per-year job after getting out of prison.
At the request of Ventresca and her attorney, Federico recommended that she be housed at a Hillsborough County prison with a faith-based program. However, he let her know that his recommendation does not guarantee that's where she will go.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232