As treasurer of the teachers' union at a Northeast Philadelphia school for autistic students, Grace Gaines wrote the checks.

Authorities say she also took the teachers' money - $17,800 of it - for herself.

This afternoon, Gaines was sentenced to six months ofhouse arrest, five years of probation and ordered to pay restitution for $11,328 of the money she stole from the teachers' union at the Woodhaven Center, which educates students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

"While the thefts totaled less than $20,000, the defendant's crimes were persistent, systematic, open-ended and ugly," Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamela Foa wrote in a sentencing memo.

In October, Gaines pleaded guilty to three counts of embezzlement. She could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

From January 2002 through March 2006, Gaines wrote union checks to herself, deposited dues checks into her personal bank account, and cashed dues checks and pocketed the money, according to court documents.

Union checks normally needed to be co-signed by the union's president, but in some cases Gaines was able to override such protection. In others, she would cajole the president into signing checks before she filled in the "payee" line.

"She stole because she could," the U.S. Attorney wrote. ". . . Except for her desire for more things than she could pay for within her means, there was no pressing financial obligation that explains the crime: no financial crisis, no unforseen hospital expense, layoff or other emergency within her family."

Gaines initially paid $4,268 in restitution to a union insurer, but stopped making payments after she was indicted.

"She has paid $127 a month for cable TV, but nothing to her victims," Foa wrote.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.