June 16, 2024

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Elaborate vacations, concerts, designer clothing, even a wood-burning stove: those are some of the thousands of purchases made by a once-trusted office manager on her company’s dime.

This week, Camille Pirrone-Hess pleaded guilty to stealing more than $700,000 from family-owned Lancaster Tanks and Steel Products, in Buffalo.

June and John Brennan bought the business in 2014. In 2016, they hired Pirrone-Hess to do their bookkeeping. They said she was very likable and instantly became friends with everybody. It wasn’t until 2023, when they sold the business, that they realized the criminal that she was.

“In reviewing some of the records, in particular some credit card statements, we saw something on there that just didn’t pass the smell test,” John Brennan said.

That charge was for a cabana at a high-end Las Vegas resort.

After digging they eventually found out Pirrone-Hess had been stealing from them from the very beginning of her employment.

“I don’t think I will ever be able to trust anyone again,” June Brennan said.

The Brennans said when they first got the business they shared profits with employees: giving sizeable bonuses, along with raises. But after several years, money became tight, and they had to end those bonuses. They know now, that’s because Pirrone-Hess was siphoning money from them.

“We saw her every day and she was aware of the difficulties of running a small manufacturing business in WNY, yet it didn’t seem to concern her in the least,” John said. “We’re taking out loans and struggling to make payroll, and yet, she’s living a life of luxury.”

So how did this happen? June and John said she devised a system to falsify thousands of credit card statements.

“It was quite elaborate,” June said.

They said she even fooled their external accountant.

And it was life-changing.

In John’s victim impact statement, which will be used at Camille’s sentencing in July, he said “Camille’s deceit knew no bounds.” He also tells a judge:

  • My daughter is still paying off a sizable student loan. Camille paid her younger son’s tuition on the company credit card, her eldest son’s, nearly $3,000 graduation party from medical school and his expenses associated with traveling to evaluate neurosurgery residency programs.
  • My wife had a car payment. Camille put a $4,000 down payment on a Jeep, paid for her insurance, paid for her fuel and paid for her auto repairs with the company credit card.
  • I brown-bagged my lunch to save money, Camille used the company card to buy groceries, liquor and eat out often with her family and friends at the likes of Buffalo Chophouse, Giancarlo’s and Oliver’s to name a few.
  • I shop sales at Kohl’s. Camille used the company credit card to buy jewelry, and designer clothes at Saks, Kate Spade and Versace.

Anthony Lana, Pirrone-Hess’ attorney, told News 4 his client is remorseful and has some addiction issues, including a shopping addiction.

John Brennan said Pirrone-Hess falsified business records that made the company look considerably less profitable, forcing them to sell it lower than what it was worth, and she jeopardized their retirement.

But what they’re most upset about: these white collar crimes happen often across WNY. Pironne-Hess had jobs before working for Lancaster Tanks and Steel Products, and they were never allowed to get information about her from previous employers.

“Employers are so concerned about lawsuits … that they never say anything negative when you attempt to check their references,” John said. “As a result, bad employees just get passed on from one employer to another. Also NYS recently enacted laws to prevent asking job applicants if they committed a felony. There’s no registry, no database to ensure criminals of this from future employment in which they handle money.”

The Brennans recently found out Camille even went to work somewhere else, a similar small business, while their investigation was playing out. News 4 called that employer and the owner said after the news broke about her guilty plea, she was let go.

“In a nutshell, it’s really difficult, especially for small companies, to vet candidates,” John said.

The Brennans hope for eight years of jail time: one for every year she stole from them. Sentencing is set for July 29.

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Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor who came back home to Buffalo in 2018. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.


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