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Defense doused in $14K embezzlement

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A 7-Eleven store manager accused of staging a fire to conceal the theft of $14,000 in cash was convicted of embezzlement Wednesday in Spotsylvania County.

Maria Bonito, 43, of Spotsylvania was found guilty after a seven-hour bench trial.

Circuit Court Judge David Beck revoked Bonito’s bond and remanded her to the Rappahannock Regional Jail until her sentencing hearing on July 24.

Bonito had been manager of the store on Gordon Road for two years and was responsible for making all of the daily bank deposits when the owner was away, according to Spotsylvania Commonwealth Attorney Bill Neely. The owner was out of the country at the time of the fire.

According to evidence presented during the trial, Bonito was also caring for the owner’s 10-year-old child, who has Down’s Syndrome.

Around 1 p.m. on Aug. 20, she took the child to the store’s office area to have lunch, which was not not usual, Neely said.

Bonito claimed she left the child alone in the office while she went outside to have a smoke break. When she returned, she said she discovered a small fire on the office desk, where she had been preparing a cash deposit earlier that morning.

She blamed the fire on the child, saying that the disabled girl “had burned all the money” and instructed other store employees not to call the police or the owner because “child protective services [might] take the child away.”

She also claimed that $14,000 in cash had burned up in the fire, which was nearly the exact amount that turned out to be missing from the $14,050 deposit.

According to witness accounts, Bonito had mentioned the week before the fire that she was in need of $15,000 to cover her debts and to help her brother immigrate from the Philippines. When she was questioned by Deputy J.R. Moore the day after the fire, she told him that at least $13,800 burned in the fire.

“Yet Deputy Moore found the only evidence of the fire to be a tiny 3-inch burn mark on the store desk and a very small pile of partially burned $1 bills with no pile of ashes left to amount to anywhere near $14,000,” Neely said.

Moore also found that the store’s surveillance recording tape for that day was blank and evidence established that it was Bonito’s job to make sure the video was recording each day, Neely said.

An examination of Bonito’s hands found no injuries, Neely said although she claimed she burned them while trying to put out the fire.

Bonito and her sister testified that the store owners were responsible for the missing money.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419