updated 8/17/2005 8:19:12 PM ET 2005-08-18T00:19:12

Lia Russo Gomez and her 9-year-old daughter survived a plane crash that killed 73 other passengers in 1990, but their good fortune would turn into a tale of betrayal and ultimately forgiveness.

The mother and daughter spent months in the hospital after the Avianca Airlines plane crashed on Long Island, N.Y. Gomez received an $850,000 settlement, while her daughter, Denise Russo, was awarded $8,315 a month from when she turned 18 until she reached 25.

But Gomez told her daughter the checks came every two months. She cashed 29 of her daughter’s settlement checks, keeping more than $241,000 for herself.

Gomez, 56, pleaded guilty to the bank fraud in April. On Wednesday, she was sentenced to one year and a day in jail and was ordered to pay restitution of about $151,000 to the banks and her daughter.

At the time, Russo was a single mother supporting two young children, said her lawyer, Mark Sherman. She only learned of the scheme when her mother forged checks two months in a row and Russo called her insurance company to find out why she had not received her payment, Sherman said.

U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall called Gomez’ offense “extremely serious.”

Daughter asks for no jail time for mom
However, Russo urged the judge not to send her mother to prison, but to instead order her to pay back the money. She said her mother had recently apologized to her.

“Your honor, if it was anyone else besides my mother, I would tell you to impose the maximum sentence,” Russo said in a written statement to the court. “However, she is my mother, the only mother I will ever have, and despite her mistakes, I love her.”

She said after the sentencing that she was upset about the prison time, even though her mother could have faced two years rather than the year and a day she was given.

“This is not going to make anything better,” Russo said. “It made it more hurtful for everyone involved.”

Denies using money for luxuries
Gomez said she began cashing her daughter’s checks after she ran into financial problems. She denied allegations that had she used the money for luxuries such as cosmetic surgery and five cars.

“This was not a demon mother who was intentionally victimizing her daughter to cause pain for the mother’s own gain,” said Gomez’ lawyer, Paul Thomas.

Gomez has repaid $68,000 to the bank and $5,000 to her daughter, according to Thomas. The bank paid the daughter more than $100,000 for some checks it was liable for under a statute of limitations, but Russo is still owed about $78,000, Thomas said.

The New York-bound flight from Medellin, Colombia, crashed into a hillside on Jan. 25, 1990, in the Long Island community of Cove Neck. Federal investigators blamed the crash primarily on the crew, which knew it was low on fuel.

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