CLEARWATER — For years, Denice Galbreath tried to recover all the money she said a Clearwater businessman stole from her mother.
She called him. She e-mailed him. She went to his house. And when all of that failed, she reported him to state and local law enforcement officials.
Thursday, she got closure.
Stephen Ayoub immediately transferred $52,500 to Galbreath's mother. The rest, about $103,730, will be paid to Janis English in increments.
English, 67, did not come to the hearing. Galbreath came, but issued no comment. She sat in the first row of Circuit Judge Chris Helinger's courtroom and gestured the sign of the cross after the settlement was reached.
"This is the best chance she had, in our opinion, of getting restitution," said Alan Gross, her attorney.
It had been 52 months since English handed over more than a quarter-million dollars to Ayoub to pay her bills, keep her financial affairs in order and do anything else she requested.
Things started out well in 2005, Galbreath said. Ayoub paid all of English's bills on time. Then, in October 2008, one of English's checks bounced.
Galbreath said she asked, pleaded, then demanded Ayoub return the remainder of her mother's money, approximately $156,230.
According to court files, Galbreath, 45, and English met with Ayoub at his Clearwater home in October 2008, and he agreed to draw up a promissory note for that amount.
A Clearwater police investigation would later find that a Washington Mutual Bank employee "did notarize something for Stephen Ayoub but she did not notarize the promissory note shown to her.
"The notary signature and notary stamp had been removed from the document she actually notarized and Stephen Ayoub placed it in a promissory note and photocopied it, creating a fraudulent promissory note that appeared to be legitimate."
Pinellas County sheriff's deputies arrested him Jan. 22 on a third-degree felony charge of uttering forged bills, checks, drafts or notes.
As part of the deal, Helinger reduced that charge to providing false information to law enforcement during an investigation, a misdemeanor, and Ayoub pleaded guilty.
"It is obvious the state realized that they had no case whatsoever which is why they were so willing to grant a misdemeanor," said Ayoub, 58, the father of Safety Harbor Vice Mayor Joseph Ayoub. "They were going to lose … and they knew that."
Helinger withheld adjudication and sentenced him to a year's probation.
She tacked on another year's probation for an unrelated insurance fraud case. Court records show Ayoub tried to get Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. to reimburse him for nearly $700 in falsified charges he said he incurred after a car accident.
Pinellas sheriff's deputies arrested him Aug. 12, 2008, on a charge of false and fraudulent insurance claim, a third-degree felony.
Helinger reduced that to petty theft, a misdemeanor, withheld adjudication, and ordered him to pay $1,724 to Liberty Mutual, $500 in court costs and $25 in Sheriff's Office investigative costs.
But Ayoub, who pleaded no contest to the new charge, said the case with Liberty Mutual is "far from over."
"The insurance case was precipitated by a class-action suit that I was bringing against the insurance company, and there's still a civil suit that I filed against them that will be vigorously, aggressively pursued," he said.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.