A former Rosedale resident was sentenced Thursday in Baton Rouge to 37 months in federal prison after admitting she embezzled $491,706 in retirement and medical benefits for laborers in Louisiana and four other states.

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady also ordered Theresa G. Waters, 46, to pay full restitution to an insurer for the South Central Laborers Training and Apprenticeship Fund in Livonia.

“Where did this money go?” Brady asked Waters, who now lives near Nashville, Tenn.

“Living expenses and health issues,” Waters replied. “I was in bankruptcy the entire time.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan A. Stevens noted, however, that a random check of three months of Waters’ purchases between December 2004 and November 2008 showed $600 spent on jewelry, $1,600 for appliances and $1,800 for clothing.

“This money wasn’t being spent just to put food on the table and (cover) medical expenses,” Stevens told the judge.

The South Central fund manages benefit money for laborers working for union contractors in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, Waters’ indictment states.

Michael A. Fiser, Waters’ court-appointed attorney, asked that she be sentenced to probation rather than prison.

Fiser said sentencing guidelines unfairly increase penalties for embezzlers who use “sophisticated means” to commit their crimes.

Fiser argued Waters’ thefts, which occurred over nearly four years, could have been detected almost immediately “by anyone who cared to look.”

But under existing federal law, Fiser added, “I cannot contemplate an embezzlement case … that does not involve sophisticated means.”

Waters asked for a lenient sentence.

“The sooner I can work, the sooner I can make restitution,” she told Brady.

But the judge told Walters she should have realized she someday would face “a payback day.”

Brady added: “I don’t know what was motivating you. You just can’t steal other people’s money.”

The judge also told Waters: “You stole an awful lot of money. You did it hundreds of times. I can’t overlook that.”

Brady ordered Waters to report to federal prison on Nov. 21.

Under federal rules, Waters does not become eligible to seek early release before June 2014.