Woman twice convicted of embezzlement gets prison for 'shocking situation'

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - A Grand Rapids woman who still owes restitution for a 2004 embezzlement conviction is heading to prison for embezzling more than $181,000 from a prominent cosmetic surgery office – an offense a judge called “shocking’’ and “astounding.’’

Two embezzlement convictions in the span of 13 years necessitates that 48-year-old Rebecca Sue Barrera spend time locked up, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Donald A. Johnston said Tuesday, May 2. Losses from both crimes top $311,000.

“This embezzlement situation is shocking,’’ Johnston said. “It would be shocking if you had one conviction for this sort of thing, but to have a conviction for a substantial embezzlement and then go out and commit another substantial embezzlement is astounding.’’

Johnston sentenced Barrera to between 16 months and 15 years in prison. He also ordered that she pay restitution. Barrera, who had been free on bond, was taken to the Kent County Jail ahead of her transfer to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

She still owes about $89,000 in restitution to a Grand Rapids area law firm where she worked as a bookkeeper. She was convicted in that case in 2004 and placed on probation for three years.

In the 2017 case, investigators say Barrera took money from Center for Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery, 1151 East Paris Ave. SE. She was charged with embezzling from the company between Jan. 2014 and Dec. 2016, court records show.

Dr. Steven L. Ringler, who runs the highly-acclaimed business, says he’s delayed retirement because of the embezzlement.

“I’m 66 years old,’’ he said. “I will probably have to work another three to four years beyond what I planned just to make up for those losses.’’

He described Barrera as a trusted employee who “betrayed trust in the worse possible way.’’

“Rebecca was not only very highly compensated, she was given many extra benefits including bonuses, complimentary services, wedding gifts and so forth while she was stealing from us,’’ he told the court. “She used the money to buy expensive clothing, pets, shoes, hair services, personal trainers, her wedding in Jamaica and purchasing and furnishing a house.’’

Barrera apologized to Ringler and members of his staff.

“Dr. Ringler is one of the kindest, most wonderful men I’ve ever met,’’ she said. “I feel terrible for what I’ve done to him. I’ve hurt a lot of people with this crime.

“My goal is to really just try to get to the root of why I did what I did,’’ Barrera told the court. “I’m in counseling to try to figure that out. It’s being treated as an addiction issue. I will do whatever I can to try to make amends.’’

Barrera was responsible for handling the accounts at offices of various doctors at Center for Aesthetics and Plastic Surgery, court records show.  She was originally charged with embezzlement of more than $100,000, a 20-year felony, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.

Her first embezzlement conviction came in 2004 for siphoning funds from an Ada Township law firm where she worked as a bookkeeper. Losses in that case were pegged at more than $130,000.

As bookkeeper, Barrera was responsible for paying bills and issuing checks, court records show. She issued checks to herself rather than paying bills between 2000 and 2003.

Johnston said once Barrera is released from prison, she will be in a position “to at least make some payments towards this mountain of restitution which you owe in two separate cases."

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