As ex-Taylor Bean CEO Lee Farkas faces Thursday sentencing, letters hint of a softer side
Wake up and good morning. Is he saint or sinner? On Thursday, the man who ran Ocala's notorious Taylor, Bean & Whitaker mortgage company -- the fraud-soaked firm that brought down Alabama's huge Colonial Bank -- will be sentenced in a courtroom in Alexandria, Va.
Federal prosecutors seek the statutory maximum sentence of 385 years for ex Taylor Bean CEO Lee Farkas. A jury in April found him (photo, left) guilty of all 14 counts of conspiracy and bank, wire and securities fraud of some $3 billion in connection with his orchestration of a scheme to defraud banks and the government out of billions of dollars.
Curiously, the Wall Street Journal, which is covering the court case in Virginia, published several letters from the Ocala community praising Farkas. The letter writers and Farkas's attorneys hope the positive comments will influence the judge and reduce the heavy sentence, and help downplay the lavish lifestyle Farkas lived. Here's the Journal story.
Let's look at five letters.
From former Ocala mayor Gerald K. Ergle, we hear that Farkas was a "tremendous asset to our community" because he sponsored holiday events and helped revitalize the city by buying vacant buildings and putting them to better use.
From Susan E. King, we hear how Farkas offered up his private plane to enable her friend to bring her baby for cancer treatment at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
From Taylor Bean's former office-supply assistant, Dina Parker, we hear about a boss who would join his colleagues in the cafeteria, tell them their work was appreciated and help them solve whatever problems they faced. Parker later took a job as Farkas’s personal housekeeper in 2007.
From Farkas’s only sibling, Terri Huber, we hear how her older brother took care of her when they lost their parents at a young age and when she gave her birth to her first child. And from writer Alan Briggs, we hear how Farkas was (like Briggs) a gay man who was not a fraudster but, in fact, someone drawn to needy people who took advantage of his trust and generosity.
The Journal story even quotes Tampa Fowler White Boggs attorney and former federal prosecutor Latour "LT" Lafferty (left) who, though not involved in the case, says the judge will be obligated to consider these character letters in deciding the final sentence on Farkas.
Interesting details on one of the biggest fraud cases to date that has resulted in an actual conviction from the mortgage mess of the past decade. But is Farkas, 58, really the sacrificial lamb in a bigger game? The New York Times this week points out that Farkas may face a sentence that's more than twice as long as that handed supreme Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.
Says the Times: "In order to grab the attention of other executives, Justice Department officials have asked for more than just a life sentence, instead requesting the maximum term for each charge to be served consecutively, which adds up to 385 years. In seeking a punishment even greater than that imposed on Bernard L. Madoff, now serving a 150-year sentence, the Justice Department wants to use Mr. Farkas’s sentence as an example to other corporate officers who might be tempted to stray into illegality."
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times