LARGO – Circuit Judge Joseph A. Bulone on Friday denied Catherine McMullen's request for a reduced sentence, pointing out that most of her victims wouldn't be around by the time she paid them back.
McMullen was sentenced in September to eight years for stealing about $1 million from 18 homeowner associations. Her lawyer John Trevena, told the judge that if her sentence was cut to 21 months, the minimum for her crime, McMullen would get a job and pay her victims $1,000 a month in restitution.
Bulone said his sentence fell well within the sentencing guidelines, which included a maximum of 30 years.
A final restitution figure hasn't been set yet. But in September, Bulone said McMullen owed a total of at least $540,000 to the associations. Some losses were paid by insurance companies, so the restitution figure doesn't include those claims, but may in the future.
Prosecutors Friday said that, at a $1,000 a month, it would take more than 40 years for her to pay back $500,000.
Trevena said the eight-year sentence was not warranted, given the nature of the crime, the amount of restitution owed, the sentencing guidelines and her lack of a criminal history.
He also told the judge McMullen's husband, Mac, had tried to get a big loan to repay her victims, but was unsuccessful.
On the day of her sentencing Mac McMullen made the first and only restitution attempt, a check for $5,000. Bulone was not impressed.
Friday, Mac McMullen told the judge that the money was earned by his wife. Catherine McMullen said she had worked as a gym receptionist before her conviction.
Most association residents who spoke at her sentencing had said they wanted to see McMullen do serious time. But, after they learned her husband was working to get a substantial loan, some told the St. Petersburg Times they could tolerate a reduced sentence if she indeed paid them back.
After the hearing, Jim Goss, vice president of Greenbriar III Condominium Association in Clearwater, said McMullen's meager offer meant little.
"I can't imagine what we can do with that pittance," said Goss, 82.
McMullen's attorney said it was a meaningful offer. Because McMullen is in prison and her restitution judgment was filed in the form of liens, he said the practical result is that the victims in the case will would receive nothing.
"Is that really justice in the true sense of the word?" asked Trevena.
For eight years, McMullen, 48, worked for Buxton Properties in Largo, where she had sole control of the finances for the associations Buxton managed. She admitted to a complicated shell game that involved shifting money from various association bank accounts as well as Buxton's accounts. She told authorities she stole the money to cover bills for herself and her family and spent money on things such as a 2007 Dodge Charger for her son, dinners out, spa trips, rent and cell phone bills.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.