Employees of a Petaluma company bonded during the recent economic downturn, providing comfort for one another at a time of heartbreaking layoffs and pay cuts.
Their chief of technology, John C. Sheehan, 43, was seemingly among the tight-knit group at Bibbero Systems Inc., which some workers considered their extended family.
Little did anyone know, as employees lost their jobs and gave up bonuses over the past six years, that Sheehan was lining his pockets with nearly $1.2 million he embezzled from the company.
As the 59-year-old firm shrunk in size from 150 employees to just 62, Sheehan was spending the stolen loot on an extensive remodeling of his Rohnert Park home, buying Mercedes-Benz cars and traveling.
On Tuesday, his former co-workers expressed their outrage in a Santa Rosa courtroom as a judge sentenced Sheehan to more than nine years in prison.
"How you could sit there, everyday, 10 feet from me, creating phony invoices and stealing from me is beyond my comprehension," said Bibbero President Michael Buckley, who was forced to fire people over the losses. "I'm crushed. I hope you enjoy your time in prison."
Sheehan, in custody since his Aug. 2 arrest, showed little emotion and responded with a short apology. He asked for probation and promised to become "a better person."
"I'm very sorry for my selfish actions," he said.
But Judge Robert LaForge imposed the plea bargain sentence and ordered Sheehan to return $1,189,509. He will be out in less than four years, said his lawyer, Walter Rubenstein.
"It's clear from the people who have spoken here this morning that you destroyed a business," LaForge said. "While you'll be in prison for a number of years, the people at the company will have to start over."