Gerilee “Geri” Densberger was sentenced to eight years in state prison on Wednesday morning for the theft of more than $600,000 from her employer, Whitehall Lane Winery, and the theft of more than $37,000 from winery owner Thomas Leonardini Sr.
Densberger, the former president of Napa Valley Crime Stoppers, worked for Whitehall Lane Winery from 2009 until she was fired in November 2014. She was first suspected of using her employer’s credit card last year when Leonardini found suspicious charges on the card.
“People need to understand that if something like this occurs, they aren’t going to get probation,” Superior Court Judge Francisca Tisher said at the sentencing.
Tisher called the systemic thefts, which occurred over a period of at least five years, “a stab wound to the heart.”
During her time working for the winery, Densberger was given a position of trust within the Leonardini family, who even threw a lavish 50th birthday for her at the winery last year.
Speaking in a distraught voice, Densberger told Tisher that she would accept whatever punishment she was given.
“I’ve wanted to apologize for a long time,” Densberger said. “I wish that I didn’t do any of it, but I did. I will probably never see my parents again. I have to live with that.”
Deputy District Attorney Patrick Collins argued for the maximum sentence of nine years, saying that Densberger was stealing to pay for luxury items, that she was “highly organized,” and that she was given a position of trust as payroll manager for the winery.
“The defendant’s actions were extremely callous,” Collins said. “She worked for the winery for eight years, and had friends there. She had a position of trust within the family.”
Collins also questioned Densberger’s previous claim that she had a gambling addiction, as most of the charges were not for gambling losses.
Items Densberger purchased with stolen winery credit cards and money embezzled from the payroll included vacations, jewelry, World Series tickets and a set of $2,000 golf clubs for her husband, according to Collins and Leonardini.
In May, Densberger pleaded no contest to six charges of grand theft in Napa County Superior Court. A no-contest plea carries the same weight as a guilty plea in sentencing.
In a 2012 Register interview, Densberger said she volunteered 10 hours a week for Napa Valley Crime Stoppers, a nonprofit group that publishes the mug shots of wanted criminals and offers civilians up to $10,000 in rewards for information leading to arrests.
Densberger resigned from her position at Crime Stoppers after her arrest in November. She was briefly listed as a fugitive on the site in February.
Densberger’s attorney, Charlie Dresow, argued that her sentence should be lightened, because his client had no previous criminal record and had already paid back some of the money.
Collins said that he believed Densberger would have continued to steal from Whitehall Winery and the Leonardini family if she had not been caught.
“If it weren’t for coincidence, she probably wouldn’t have been caught,” Collins said. “In fact, it would probably still be going on right now.”
Densberger was ordered to pay back the money she stole.