Homeowners Association Treasurer Gets 3 Years for Stealing $122,779 [3-21-17]
Article Courtesy of The Ledger
By Suzie Schottelkotte
Published March 21, 2017
BARTOW — The 60-year-old former treasurer of Cimarron Homeowners Association near Medulla was sentenced to three years in prison Friday for stealing $122,779 from the group over an 11-year span.
Martha Beard, who still lives in the 72-home community, told Circuit Judge Wayne Durden during Friday’s hearing that she had intended to pay the money back, but the debt became too great.
“This was a major error in judgment on my part,” she said, “and I take full responsibility.”
Her son, 33-year-old Matthew Beard, a freelance sound technician for entertainment venues, was sentenced to two years in prison Friday for his role in the theft. His mother allowed him to use the association’s debit card, as well, piling up about $20,000 of the total that was taken.
They did repay $12,622 in four deposits before the theft was discovered. Including that money, they stole a total $135,400.
Both apologized to homeowners in the courtroom Friday, and Durden said he believed their remorse to be sincere. He also said he recognized the association’s need to get the $122,779 back through restitution.
But that need paled, he said, when balanced against the ongoing theft.
“I don’t think the need for restitution outweighs the need for punishment,” he said.
Daniel Santangelo, president of Cimarron Homeowners Association, said he agreed with Durden’s assessment.
“There are a lot of angry people,” he said.
Martha Beard, 60, and her son, Matthew Beard, 33, were in Circuit Court on Friday for sentencing by Circuit Judge Wayne Durden for stealing money from Cimarron Homeowners Association.
When asked what punishment they would like to see, he said they’d want the maximum sentence. The common areas in the community have fallen into disrepair because there wasn’t money to fix them, he said, but the association is beginning to recover financially.
Billie Wheeler, the association’s vice president, said the homeowners feel betrayed.
“The money would be nice,” she said, “but they want jail.”
In January, Martha Beard pleaded guilty to grand theft and scheme to defraud, and her son pleaded no contest to identical charges. By pleading no contest, he didn’t admit guilt, but chose not to contest the allegations.
Neither of them had a plea agreement with prosecutors, which left them facing up to 30 years in prison.
State sentencing guidelines called for each to receive 21 months in prison.
In addition to the prison time, Durden imposed 20 years’ probation on Martha Beard and 10 years’ probation on her son. One of the conditions for probation is that they make regular payments to the homeowners’ association.
The missing money came to light in August 2015 when the association’s lawn care service reported the association owed about $29,000.
Santangelo said they checked the association’s bank records that day, which should have reflected a balance of about $20,000. Instead, the account held $39, he said Friday.
When questioned by Polk County Sheriff’s detectives, Martha Beard confessed, according to reports, saying she had been laid off and needed the money for living expenses.
During Friday’s hearing, Anne Gonzalez, the association’s secretary who said Martha Beard had been her friend, said Beard had inherited some money when her mother died about four years ago.
“At that point, she got a brand new kitchen,” Gonzalez said. “She had a nice sum of money and she chose not to pay (the association) at that time. My neighbors want the maximum sentence.”
Martha Beard’s privately retained lawyer, J. Armando Edmiston of Tampa, argued that her health would make prison difficult for her, and her time would be better spent working her job as a dispatcher for a technology repair service, earning money toward her restitution.
Tampa lawyer Thomas Grajek, representing Matthew Beard, posed a similar argument regarding restitution.
But Assistant State Attorney Michael Hrdlicka asked the two defendants how much they have put aside toward restitution, and when they said there was nothing, he questioned their ability to come up with the money going forward.
“This idea that they can pay restitution in the future is simply that – an idea,” he said. “It’s not something the court can rely upon.”