BROOKSVILLE — The octogenarian accused of bilking elderly friends and neighbors of more than $1 million in a lottery scheme is headed to prison for a year.
Doris Siegel, who turned 80 years old on Sunday, was found guilty on Oct. 14 of one count of organized fraud and one count of illegal structuring of financial transactions.
As part of a plea bargain, she was sentenced to 18 months in state prison followed by five years of probation and will get credit for about six months she has already served.
Siegel must try to pay back her victims, but Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said those victims do not have much hope of getting their money back. Officials have not been able to track down the money that Siegel took, and her only income is Social Security payments. She remained in jail after her arrest because she could not afford $5,000 bail.
The victims did approve of the sentence, though, Barbee said.
"We realized there was no way we were going to get restitution, so it came down to what was enough considering her age and lack of criminal history, and still sufficient to satisfy the victims that she was appropriately punished," he said.
Siegel came to the attention of police in 2004, when she apparently was duped by a Nigerian Internet lottery scam. She went to Brooksville police, who told her that she had likely been victimized.
Siegel then used that information and deception, police said, to con money from other people. Inside her home, police found piles of paperwork detailing how to operate a lottery scam.
According to police, Siegel approached several victims from January 2008 through April of this year and asked for money, claiming she had won a lottery in Holland. Several of the victims were Siegel's neighbors in Hometown Clover Leaf Forest RV Park in Brooksville.
Over time, police said, Siegel transferred nearly $1.1 million in small amounts to sidestep state and federal transaction reporting requirements.
"She was a victim of this Nigerian lottery scheme as much as anybody else," said Devon Sharkey, Siegel's court-appointed attorney. "She got drawn into this thing and spent a lot of her own money on it.''
Barbee concedes that the victim became the victimizer.
"I think that at some level, based on her naiveté or lack of experience, she was at some point taken advantage of," Barbee said. "I think the evidence does reflect that she clearly defrauded these people by obtaining money under false pretenses. She turned into a criminal at that point."
A prominent Brooksville businessman also became ensnared in the case.
Martin "Dan" Patrick was arrested May 5 on charges of forgery and illegal structuring of financial transactions after Brooksville police said they found evidence that he and Siegel had agreed to split proceeds from the lottery deal.
Patrick said he knew Siegel and that the two often lent each other money, but it was not nefarious in nature. The charges were later dropped because they were filed after the expiration of a three-year statute of limitation; the allegations mostly stemmed from a $175,000 loan Siegel made to Patrick in April 2006.
As part of the terms of her sentence, Siegel will not be allowed to return to Clover Leaf upon her release. She remained in Hernando County Jail on Tuesday but was expected to be transferred to a state facility that can meet her medical needs. Siegel suffers from asthma and is unsteady on her feet, Sharkey said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.