Crime Former Indiantown Nonprofit Housing director Donna Carman blames money thefts on gambling
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FORT PIERCE — Donna Carman, the former executive director of Indiantown Nonprofit Housing who pleaded guiltyfrom the not-for-profit corporation, is asking a judge to spare her prison time, records show.
Instead, Carman, 60, is seeking a punishment of probation, according to court papers filed ahead of her sentencing hearing Dec. 23 before U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce.
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In a sentencing memo, Carman’s attorney Michael B. Cohen, of Fort Lauderdale, indicated the U.S. Probation Office has determined a sentencing guideline range of six months to a year in federal prison.
Carman in October pleaded guilty to a charge of theft from an organization receiving federal funds. The maximum sentence includes 10 years in prison and up to three years supervised release.
Citing her decades of community work, her age and other factors — including paying $50,000 in restitution — Cohen is asking Martinez to go “slightly below” the sentencing range and order her to serve a term of probation.
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Without elaborating, Cohen tied his client’s illegal actions to a gambling addiction. Her criminal conduct, he wrote, “represented aberrant behavior.”
“Suffice it to say that Ms. Carman led a stellar life and was a pillar of her community with a wonderful family,” he noted in court papers.
“Ms. Carman had never previously violated the law and her conduct in the present matter was tied to an unfortunate gambling addiction she developed.”
Reached Thursday, Cohen declined to comment on Carman's gambling issue.
"I'll let the fillings speak for themselves," he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Porter, though, rejected Carman’s probation request and, in his response filed Dec. 11, argued she should serve at least three months in prison followed by three months of home detention.
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Carman was the executive director of the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce when federal authorities in August charged her with using her position of authority and trust to steal “at least $50,000” from., between January 2013 and September 2015.
Carman was identified then as the executive director of Indiantown Nonprofit Housing, which was established in 1979 and is headquartered in Indiantown in western Martin County.
In her role, Carman was authorized to use an American Express credit card for purchases paid for by the nonprofit agency, which got federal grants and loans from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Authorities accused Carman of “siphoning” federal funds for her own use, including paying a general contractor and an electrical contractor in 2014 to make repairs to property she owned in Indiantown.
Other purchases included $265 in items from a Jensen Beach sporting goods store; $900 in plane tickets to Ohio and a hotel room; $660 in plane tickets from Veracruz, Mexico, to Miami; and about $630 for a dinner at the University of Florida Membership Club.
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“There is a distinct absence of mistake in how Carman perpetrated the crime. Carman’s actions were purposefully calculated to deceive,” Porter argued in court papers. “As for Carman’s motive, her gambling addiction appears to be the culprit.”
Porter too, noted that Carman’s background “reveals instances of good character on her part.
“Nevertheless, Carman’s prior good deeds, on balance, do not negate the fraud she perpetrated during her tenure at Indiantown,” he argued.
“A sentence of three months’ imprisonment followed by three months of home detention adequately accounts for Carman’s history and characteristics.”
Supporters seek leniency
But that’s not the sentiment of 37 friends and supporters of Carman’s who wrote heart-felt letters to the court seeking leniency on her behalf.
Dozens of letters addressed to Martinez show stalwart support for Carman, who has lived in Indiantown since the early 1970s.
Indiantown Council Member Susan G. Thomas cited her 42-year friendship with Carman and described their working side by side for a variety of organizations, such as the Jaycees and Christmas parades.
“In light of Mrs. Carman’s years of constant selfless community service and involvement, and for the good that she has done,” Thomas wrote, “I am requesting leniency and mercy be considered on her behalf.”
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Melissa Wilhoit, Indiantown Chamber of Commerce ambassador, who’s known Carman since childhood, called her “a pillar of this community.”
“I hope that you read this letter and see the wonderful, hardworking, caring person that Donna Carman truly is and not the Donna Carman that made a mistake,” Wilhoit wrote.
“True justice demands that her punishment be minimal, in service to the people and community that she has served her entire life, and not being taken from them.”
During 20 years of service, Carman “has tackled some of our town’s toughest challenges, including homelessness, hunger and the elderly,” according to Indiantown Gas Co. President Brian Powers and his wife, Melissa Powers.
“Through the years, she has made sure families are fed and clothed, kids have school supplies and our elderly are taken care of,” the Powers wrote.
“She is simply selfless when it comes to serving our community."
This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers:
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