My Husband Embezzled Millions and I Paid the Price

Nora Zelevansky

The Price I Paid for Norman’s Mistakes

When the police searched our home, they found items I never knew existed, like 75 watches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I had confronted Norman in the past about spending erratically, but I had no idea how bad it had gotten.

It couldn’t be proven whether I knew anything, so since I did technically commit the crimes I was accused of (signing, endorsing and depositing checks for an illegal business) my lawyer encouraged me to accept a plea bargain. If I fought the charges, I would risk going away to jail for up to three years, and I didn’t want to be away from my daughter for that long. I was charged with a Class B felony and served four months in a county jail.

The earliest Norman, who got a Class A conviction and was sentenced to 4-12 years in jail, could get out of state prison is July 2015.

I was imprisoned from mid-January to mid-May 2012, and being away from my daughter was the hardest part. We told her the truth about where I was and why. She stayed with my parents (we still live with them), and I didn’t speak to her during my entire incarceration—we were so close, and hearing from me upset her too much. At 6 years old, she still worries that I might be gone if I’m not in my bed in the morning.

Sometimes even I can’t believe what happened to me—it sounds like the plot of a Lifetime Original Movie.

When I first got out, I was in shock, very depressed and embarrassed. I felt rage at Norman and frustration and anger at myself. How could I have not looked further into what was going on?

I am still scared of him. He is a sociopath and a narcissist. And, as my daughter’s father, he will be in my life forever. He speaks to her twice a week, but he is only allowed to contact me through my lawyer, and the last time we spoke is before I went to jail. That is the price I pay for not leaving when I should have; for not reaching out for help before things got so bad. Now I have to pay for the rest of my life: financially, emotionally, psychologically. And so does my daughter, who is an innocent party.

How I’m Rebuilding My Life

In the end, I’m responsible for half of Norman’s debt. When I went to jail I lost the house we bought years before. I’ll have to declare bankruptcy and work out a situation with the I.R.S. to pay about $1 million in back taxes. I’m also paying $100 each month in restitution to the university’s insurance company via the Department of Probation. It’s not much, but I do what I can.

RELATED: If Only I Knew Then … Tales of Financial Hindsight

As far as employment goes, I’ve been lucky. The woman who wrote my pre-sentencing report liked my rewrite so much that she hired me. Eventually, her doctor husband hired me away from her to do administrative and marketing work for his practice. I’m making $15 an hour.

I have done things I never thought I’d have to do: I applied for food stamps and waited in line at Social Service for health care benefits. I’ve relied on online support groups, women’s career non-profits and outpatient counseling centers for domestic abuse. I would not have been able to get through any of this without my family, friends and new boyfriend, who is a thoughtful and kind person.

There’s a stigma attached to what I experienced and I’m sure I’ll be judged. But I learned—in part from a book called “Orange is the New Black,” by a former female white collar prisoner who once delivered a suitcase of drug money—that it doesn’t matter what we look like, what our backgrounds are, what level of education we have, how big our houses are, or how we worship (or don’t). None of us is better than the other. What matters in the end is our integrity and willingness to learn from one another.

Sometimes even I can’t believe what happened to me—it sounds like the plot of a Lifetime Original Movie. That’s one of the most important lessons I learned from this experience, which landed me in prison and a lifetime of debt: It can happen to you. It can happen to anyone.

Love reading other people’s financial tales? Check out more great LearnVest-exclusive personal stories.

*Due to the sensitive nature of this story, names have been changed.

  • Michelle

    Wow! I don’t know what to say besides I would hate for that to happen to me. You don’t think that family would do something like that to you – until it happens. I’m so sorry!

    • TheMaxxx

      Don’t embezzle money.

      The prosecutor had incontrovertible proof that Jen knew about the embezzlement, she was the one doing the books…

  • Toni Bradley L

    It does sound like an episode of ‘Who the bleep did I marry?’. It’s extremely sad when someone you thought was the one and cared about you ended up having complete disregard for you and your child’s current wellbeing and future. It’s doubly sad that you and she will have to deal with him for at least 12 more years. Hopefully, at that point, you can completely leave him behind. Unfortunately, he will never see the error in his ways. I wish you all the best for your future. Your story should be on with his real name because when he gets out of jail he will be looking for his next victim.

    • TheMaxxx

      Apparently Jen has not seen the error of her ways.

      This story is complete BS. She was involved neck deep in the embezzlement.

  • anise

    It’s hard to feel bad when you kept ignoring all the giant red flags.

    • Dee

      hindsight is 20/20.

    • Anonymous

      Exactly! The guy was a serious drug addict and loser and she trusted him with their finances and her child. She decided to ignore all the giant warning signs and put her child at risk and permanently screwed up her life. She should not be praised. Woman need to wake up and take control of their lives and stop letting a man run it just because they are men. There is no need to quit your job and give up your life because you have one kid. This is not the 50′s anymore.

    • TheMaxxx

      It’s hard to feel bad when she was the one managing the books for the embezzling.

    • Deborah Hymes

      I think the biggest red flag was when no one in her family saw anything amiss with a 22-year-old man pursuing a 16-year-old girl.

  • Dee

    It would be easy to say she should have done differently or known better, but it’s a subtle thing, you’re raising children and busy, etc. Of course you trust your spouse. You trust your spouse until you learn differently. I trusted my husband. In effect, he was very late filing taxes on his business. I was so relieved when he finally did get the taxes prepared several years late, I signed the tax returns when I made about 5% of the yearly income v. my husband’s 95%. Then, my husband never paid the taxes owed. Then he basically dissipated all his money and had none left to pay taxes with. So, I left him, but the IRS still held me accountable — for an amount that was almost twice what my yearly income is — because I signed the returns and I had more assets than he had at this point. To pay the IRS (and the divorce lawyer), I lost properties that had brought me income and were supposed to be my retirement plan, I lost a lot. But I have salvaged quite a bit, thanks to my lawyer, and I am divorced. That was expensive tuition that I paid, but the lesson has been well-learned.

    • Jay

      you should write your story too! this is so important for other women to learn!

      • TheMaxxx

        She should sell a book, absolutely. That way perhaps the money could actually be paid back at some point.

        By the way, Jen, was the one that did the books for the embezzling.

        She seems to have left that part out of the story.

    • Tami Koval

      I think so many of us have stories like this. The story in this article is quite extreme, but Dee, like yours I have an ex that took me to the cleaners. And we have a son so he is in my life forever. The financial aspect is one thing, but the emotional side of having to see him after what he did with me is the hardest thing to get over. Perhaps we should all get together and write our stories for the next generation of women to learn!! Blessing to all of us.

    • Kay

      Did you attempt to file the “Innocent Spouse” form with the IRS?

      • TheMaxxx

        She’s not allowed to from my understanding.

        As it turns out, she was the book keeper in the embezzlement.

  • Clare Mountfort

    Thanks for having the courage to tell your story.

    • TheMaxxx

      Would have been nice if she told the truth though.

  • Nonya Bizness

    How sad! I was relieved when I read she “only” did 4 months in the county. I’m mad that he is still allowed to talk to their daughter.I knew some husbands weren’t all that they’re cracked up to be, but this is really scary.

    • TheMaxxx

      Jennifer was actually the one who kept the books, not her husband.

      Jen is the one with a master’s degree.

  • Kathy

    I truly feel terrible for people who get taken advantage of by the people they care about. It’s extremely unfortunate and it’s probably very damaging emotionally and mentally. But I disagree that this could “happen to anyone”. This kind of thing usually doesn’t happen after a simple mistake or two here or there, it happens after a lifetime of bad choices by both parties (and even sometimes other people who are involved – in this case the woman’s family seemed to contribute by not telling her certain info). Lots of women (and men) face situations like this but they make different choices along the way before it affects them in such a deeply negative way. The important takeaway from a story like this is for other people to learn from it. Be an equal partner in your marriage and finances. Just because you trust someone doesn’t mean you should be in the dark about aspects of your life together. And if you have transparency, this kind of thing is much less likely to happen to you.

    • TheMaxxx

      Of course it couldn’t happen to anyone. Jennifer was the book keeper in a $2 million embezzlement scheme.

  • Anonymous

    You have got to be kidding me. This is ridiculous! If this story is true or false, you should be ashamed of yourself. I can’t believe someone printed this.

    • TheMaxxx

      Oh, it’s false. Jen lied through her teeth in this article.

      Keep in mind, both her and Arthur are pretty severe narcissist.

  • Joan

    She should write a book about it, maybe they’ll even make it into a movie. That should help her get back on her feet.

    • TheMaxxx

      She should, and the proceeds should go to paying back the people she stole from.

      Much of this self serving story is false.

    • Krs

      amazing idea. WRITE A BOOK. that ll be a slap in ‘Norman’s face

  • anabella

    wow!!!!!! its like a movie story as you said. thank you for sharing you story is really helpfull.

    • TheMaxxx

      It’s also complete BS.

  • TheMaxxx


    Some of us are from the New Jersey/New York area, and are aware of this case.

    This was the Vassar rip-off, in Poughkeepsie.

    Shall I fill in the readers on some of the mistakes and/or omissions there for them, Jennifer?

    Among the items the police found that Jennifer, how does she say it “they found items I never knew existed, like 75 watches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars” were 4 BMW’s parked in the driveway.

    Yeah, you read that correctly. She was unaware of the 4 BMW’s in her driveway, which she of course was routinely witnessed driving around Poughkeepsie.

    It must have slipped Jennifer’s mind to tell Nora Zelevansky, their other conspirator, Christopher DeSanto, was also in a bit of trouble because there were actually two companies used to embezzle money, which Jennifer was involved.

    You forgot to mention the guns too, did you Jen?

    10 illegal weapons were found in the house, one of which was a .223 military style assault rifle.

    She was indicted, and plead guilty because the evidence was overwhelming. One of the key reasons why she was able to plead to an easy sentence was because she has to pay back all the money she stole.

    And yes, she stole it. The prosecutor detailed Jennifer’s spending spree with the illegally obtained monies.

    Nice try Jen, but the readers should know there were two narcists in that relationship. See you haven’t changed any in your need for attention.

  • Perri

    I don’t even know the parties involved, but even I am more skeptical than these posters who are so sympathetic to this writer. There’s a good chance she was guilty as charged and just as guilty as her husband. She just got to put her story in print first and may be playing the victim. We as women have to be more discerning when we hear these “victim” stories.

  • cocoachanel74

    (after reading some of your comments)…..and….this is why women will never progress because we take another woman’s story and throw dirt on it. It’s cool if you’re suspect on some issues but we don’t have to be condescending and mean. YOU will never know what it was like for this woman. NEVER. Alright, maybe she is lying. She may be telling the truth. Her truth. Regardless, the point is, learn the lesson, period! I’m 39 years old and it never ceases to amaze me that women won’t encourage and congratulate each other because we are always trying to ‘smell a rat!’ It only alludes to the fact that we ourselves are somehow wallowing around too much in our own sordid misery to recognize the real pain in others. LearnVest was not created to be another Facebook but an avenue to help and learn from each other’s experiences. If you disagree with an article on Learnvest, say so. But leave the dirt in the yard!

  • Chrissy

    On a very small scale, I see my parents here. My mom just lucked out of not getting caught up in my dad’s fraud & drugs (marijuana growing in the back yard, a BIG DEAL in the 70′s in R.I. – now it’s completely legal to grow for own use there!). My dad never really got any heat due to the lack of computer technology and awareness of these things that exists today. At 16, I saw it all. Maybe thats why I can’t imagine this happening to me, it had already almost happened in my life. There are men I have run from. Just something about them wasn’t right. I am a happily married adult- 2nd marriage. I wish well for the child in this story. Sometimes things really do happen for a reason, I guess.