Plea deal delayed: Car dealer wants stiffer sentence for man accused of embezzling

William Patrick Cleary is accused of embezzling more than $350,000 from Ambassador Auto Sales on Davis Boulevard in East Naples.

Lee County Sheriff's Office

William Patrick Cleary is accused of embezzling more than $350,000 from Ambassador Auto Sales on Davis Boulevard in East Naples.

— Two months after he turned down a six-year prison sentence, William Cleary was ready to accept the standing plea agreement Thursday on a grand theft charge.

Nick Garulay, who says Cleary embezzled about $375,000 from him, wasn’t as willing to end the case.

After hearing Garulay, owner of Ambassador Auto Sales in East Naples, argue Thursday for a harsher sentence, Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt rejected an agreement that would have sent Cleary, 60, to prison for six years. The two sides must draw up another plea agreement or work toward a trial, tentatively scheduled for early 2012.

Hardt asked Garulay in court whether he supported the arrangement, which Cleary rejected in August but appeared poised to take Thursday. Garulay briefly apologized but said he wanted at least a 10-year prison sentence.

“It’s not long enough,” Garulay said. “This man ruined my life.”

Collier County sheriff’s investigators said Cleary embezzled the money while working as a bookkeeper at Ambassador Auto Sales between August 2008 and July 2010. During that time, Garulay said Cleary became a “father figure” for him.

But when a dealership manager noticed fraudulent bookkeeping, Cleary came under investigation for diverting about $375,000 into his private accounts, court records show.

Cleary faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on the grand theft charge. Garulay said he wouldn’t be opposed to a trial.

“I want to get up on the stand and tell my story to a jury,” Garulay said.

Cleary’s public defender, Shawn Nagle, declined comment after Thursday’s hearing.

Garulay said the dealership and its staff suffered as a result of Cleary. A few employees were laid off, and the remaining 10 staff members all took pay cuts, Garulay said.

“They’ve all been very loyal and understand the damage that this man has done,”

Personally, Garulay said his home has been in foreclosure since Cleary’s arrest. Garulay also has had to review his personal tax records because he paid taxes on income that prosecutors said Cleary siphoned.

Garulay has recovered about $172,000 from Cleary, but Cleary still owes the rest plus damages awarded in a civil suit filed against him by Clearly. In all, Cleary owes $583,000.

Garulay also has two pending civil lawsuits in which he seeks $157,000 from two women — Nashville, Tenn., resident Ann Marie Gillum and Naples resident Lisa Marie Edwards — he says received gifts from Cleary.

Gillum and her husband, Gary, met Cleary at a nightclub several years ago and periodically visited him in Naples. Cleary said in the lawsuit that the Gillums’ trips to Naples, as well as “substantial medical fees,” were paid by Cleary, totaling $110,000.

Gillum responded in the lawsuit that she “no longer possesses any funds remaining from gifts received from Mr. Cleary.”

Edwards said in court documents that she met Cleary through an online dating site in May 2010. Weeks later, she received two checks from him totaling $47,000. She didn’t know the source of the funds and is fighting Garulay’s request for a refund, records show.

The case against Gillum is scheduled for a April 2012 trial date, while the case against Edwards remains in the early stages.

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