CARROLL GARDENS — An 80-year-old Carroll Gardens resident who was forced to shutter his family business after he was duped by a pilfering bookkeeper was finally repaid Wednesday.
Matthew Ruggiero, 80, was forced to close his plumbing business after his employee, Elizabeth Nero, spent years stealing roughly $323,000 to pay off her credit card bills, the Brooklyn District Attorney said.
Nero, of Long Island City, freely used the company checking account at Hicks Street Plumbing and Heating Supply, Inc. between July 2011 and October 2013. She would forge the signatures of Ruggiero and his wife, Rosemary, on company checks to cover her own bills instead of paying business vendors and suppliers.
Her purchases included restaurant tabs, trips and accommodations at motels, a Poconos resort and travel to Disney World, the DA said.
"She kept telling my husband he was like her father," Rosemary Ruggiero said Wednesday evening at her home.
"She was robbing me," Matthew Ruggiero added.
On Wednesday, acting DA Eric Gonzalez presented a restitution check of $323,604.23 to the Ruggiero family after seizing assets from Nero, who was hit with a 159-count indictment last year.
Gonzalez hoped that the returned money would "make you whole again," he said to Ruggiero.
"We are going to make sure she is held fully accountable," he said.
Ruggiero, who was born and grew up in Carroll Gardens, had spent almost his entire life working as a plumber. It was his dream to open his own business, Joseph Ruggiero, his son said.
But Nero's theft ultimately crippled the family shop, which was forced to shutter after more than a decade.
"It just takes away so much because you lost faith in people," said Rosemary, who has been married to Matthew for 28 years.
Nero will also pay $160,000 in forfeiture before her sentencing in February next year, the DA's office said.