COURT NOTEBOOK: Imprisoned thief ordered to pay up


Imprisoned thief ordered to pay up

Nearly a year after an embezzler was sent to state prison after failing to reimburse about two dozen victims, a judge ordered the former car and motorcycle dealer to pay them roughly $267,000.

A restitution order signed Feb. 23 by Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt came after Assistant State Attorney James Molenaar and defense attorney Jerry Berry reached a stipulation requiring Christopher Copp Connolly, 42, of 5750 10th Ave. S.W., Golden Gate, to pay $100,000 to two victims. Weeks earlier, Connolly had been ordered to pay $166,830 to the others.

When Hardt sentenced Connolly to five years May 27, it was the deadline to pay $376,000, but due to the economy, the father of three wasn’t able to refinance his father’s home. Connolly’s former customers, who gave him their cars and motorcycles to sell on consignment, lost anywhere from $1,700 for a motorcycle to $70,000 for a Porsche.

On Jan. 18, 2008, Connolly, who once operated Showroom of Naples and Florida Custom Cycle, pleaded no contest to first- and second-degree felony counts of scheming to defraud. He also pleaded to five counts of communications fraud and selling and transferring without delivering a title, a misdemeanor. Connolly, who maintained he’d just mishandled his finances, faced up to 30 years in a state prison or 166 years on all.

The order involves amounts ranging from $1,700 to $60,000 for victims who live in Naples, Marco Island and Fort Myers, and out of state.

Pregnant thief gets year in jail

A bookkeeper for a kitchen cabinet firm who embezzled $53,000 to pay her bills was sentenced to a year in jail and 15 years of probation.

Judge Hardt imposed the term on Wilmarie Castañeda, 25, of Fort Myers, on Feb. 23 and ordered her to pay $32,822, what she still owes her former employer, William Gallagher at Palm Bay Kitchen & Bath in Naples.

Two weeks earlier, the judge had adjudicated her guilty of scheming to defraud, a first-degree felony, but defense attorney Allison David wouldn’t accept any plea agreements from Assistant State Attorney James Molenaar, who first offered a five-year prison term, and left sentencing up to the judge, who ordered a presentence investigation.

Castañeda apologized, saying she’d made a mistake because she was “stressed out,” but continued 15 more times, likening it to an addiction. Gallagher told the judge she was a good employee for eight months, until he caught her writing a check to herself and then discovered she’d written others.

The judge said the sheriff would have to make sure Castañeda, who is pregnant and due to deliver her baby in July, gets good medical care.

Ex-Vineyards bookkeeper faces sentencing for fraud

A former longtime bookkeeper for the Vineyards Golf and Country Club admitted embezzling money over three years, but authorities admit they didn’t check over the entire 17 years she’d worked there.

Ellen Mary Manion, of 3565 Kent Drive, East Naples, pleaded to scheming to defraud more than $50,000, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in a state prison. Judge Hardt adjudicated her guilty, but allowed her to remain free pending sentencing on April 27.

The judge ordered a presentence investigation from the state Department of Corrections after Assistant State Attorney James Molenaar and defense attorney Robert Pelier couldn’t agree on a plea bargain and Pelier disputed what she owed; Molenaar said it was roughly $85,000.

Manion was arrested April 30, but has been free since posting $10,000 bond two days later. She was the bookkeeper at the upscale North Naples development for 17 years, but was let go in December 2005, according to sheriff’s reports, which say Vineyards employees discovered a shortage in the operating account after she left. She’d been in charge of making deposits and reconciling the financial books, working with no oversight.

The sheriff’s Economic Crimes Unit checked financial records for 2003, 2004 and 2005 and came up with the amount.

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