BROCKTON, Mass. — When Manuel Buginga found out his sister had been embezzling money from his Brockton construction business for years he didn't know what to do.
Buginga said he was even more shocked to learn that she increased the amount she had been stealing after she found out he had been diagnosed with cancer and also after she won $1 million on a scratch ticket just two months prior.
In March 2012, Buginga was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma. With the news of his cancer he went to review his bank accounts for the business to see where he stood financially and said they were virtually empty.
His sister, Maria Pereira, 55, of 3 Wallace St., Berkley was the bookkeeper for the company, MJM Construction on Main Street in Brockton, a successful business that Buginga had built from the ground up.
In total, Pereira was alleged to have stolen $1.6 million from the company from 2009 to 2012.
On Friday she pleaded guilty in Brockton Superior Court to larceny over $250 by a single scheme as part of a plea deal to have 15 other charges against her dropped.
"She accelerated after she found out I was sick," Buginga, 38, of Bridgewater said. He underwent months of treatments and has now been cancer free since October 2012.
As part of the plea deal on Friday, Pereira was sentenced to 5 years probation and was ordered to pay $103,757 in restitution. She had been facing 5 years in prison.
Despite Buginga's best efforts to explain the situation to his vendors, many of which stood by his side, his business was ruined as he took time to deal with his cancer.
After winning the lottery Jan. 31 2012 and taking a lump sum of $455,000 after taxes, Pereira put several thousand dollars back into the business to try and cover her tracks, Buginga said.
With the money she bought motorcycles, custom closets and paid for vacations, Plymouth County Assistant District Attorney Russ Eonas said.
Pereira twisted and fidgeted with a ring on her finger and writhed her hands together throughout the hearing in front of Judge Cornelius Moriarty. Her cell phone buzzed loudly multiple times during the hearing, for which she apologized.
"It's clear that Ms. Pereira has engaged in extraordinarily disgraceful conduct," Moriarty said. "She's stolen from her brother who placed her in a position of trust and she stole from him when he was sick."
Moriarty said he only allowed the plea, instead of the case going to trial as planned on Monday, because Buginga accepted the terms.
"This case was never about restitution. It's not about the money. It's about his reputation, his family, his community, his business contacts and the like," said Eonas, who was very confident he would have won had the case gone to trial.
After the hearing was over, Pereira walked straight to the door and did not look at her brother.
As part of her probation, she must not have any contact with Buginga or his wife and two kids, ages 7 and 9.
Buginga said he would prefer it that way.
He called her a "scam artist" and an "absolute scumbag" and said it was not the first time she had been accused of stealing.
Pereira told Moriarty said she is employed as a tax preparer for N & J Tax & Bookkeeping at 404 New State Highway in Raynham.
She agreed to pay $1,000 per week to Buginga until the $103,575 is paid off.
"Where that money comes from is the big question," Buginga said.
As a result of the plea deal, Buginga may never see the rest of the money Pereira was alleged to have stolen. He has a civil case against Pereira pending in Brockton District Court.
"I accepted the deal because I just want closure to this. I want people to know that she's guilty," Buginga said.
Despite his setbacks, Buginga has been able to rebuild his company which is doing better than ever.
"I'm just happy to put this all behind me for me and my family," he said.
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