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Ex-stripper who brought down appellate judge is sentenced for bank fraud

Christy Yamanaka, who said former 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Thomas Stringer helped her hide assets from creditors, walks into her sentencing at the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa on Monday.

SCOTT MCINTYRE | Times

Christy Yamanaka, who said former 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Thomas Stringer helped her hide assets from creditors, walks into her sentencing at the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa on Monday.

TAMPA — A former New York City stripper was sentenced Monday to one year of supervised release for bank fraud, ending a lurid tale of deceit that brought down a Florida appellate court judge.

Christy Yamanaka, 50, pleaded guilty to one count of scheming with then-Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. to hide the fact that she gave him cash to buy a house in Hawaii.

After the house was sold, the two fell into a dispute over its profits, leading to a tabloid scandal that cost Stringer his reputation, his seat on the 2nd District Court of Appeal and, for at least five years, his license to practice law.

"It's a sad case," U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said outside the courthouse.

During the sentencing, Yamanaka apologized to U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore, saying she was "truly and deeply sorry and ashamed over what I have done."

"I will not stray again," she said. "I am full of regret and sorrow for my conduct."

Afterward, Yamanaka, who was raised in South Korea and Japan, shook hands with and bowed deeply to courtroom personnel, the prosecutor, an FBI agent and reporters.

"Even though I am convicted, I am very happy, because the media searched and the truth came out," she said on the courthouse steps.

In 2004, when Stringer and Yamanaka bought the house, she had filed for bankruptcy and was concealing money from creditors to whom she owed nearly $315,000.

On the mortgage application, Stringer wrote that none of the money for the down payment was borrowed. In fact, he got it from her.

Yamanaka had faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine on the bank fraud charge, but federal sentencing guidelines in her case called for no more than six months in prison. O'Neill acknowledged that she brought the case to authorities, accepting responsibility along the way.

Whittemore ordered Yamanaka to pay a $100 assessment and to forfeit $222,362, the profit that she and Stringer made on the sale of the home in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, near Honolulu.

Yamanaka and Stringer met at Malio's restaurant in Tampa in 1995, when he was a circuit court judge in Hillsborough County and she was an exotic dancer at 2001 Odyssey on N Dale Mabry Highway.

Yamanaka wanted to be friends, according to court pleadings filed by her attorney, but Stringer "pressured her significantly for more," leading her to move to Canada to "avoid his unwanted advances."

A few years later, in desperate financial straits, she turned to Stringer for legal advice, her attorney said. Initially, he told her to talk to his son, a lawyer, but eventually the two bought the house in Hawaii.

In early 2008, their break over the money from the sale of the house exploded as she took her complaints to the authorities and the media.

At the time the scandal broke, Yamanaka danced at Scores East Side, an upscale strip club patronized by celebrities and athletes in New York City.

She has since left the business, has reconnected with an adult son and is looking for a job as an administrative assistant, her attorney said. Six weeks ago, she married for the fifth time, to Irving Schwartz, who owns a business that specializes in improving the air quality of airports and other commercial buildings.

Stringer initially denied any wrongdoing, saying he and Yamanaka were merely friends who had a business relationship.

In February 2009, Stringer resigned from the 2nd District Court of Appeal. His departure came as investigators with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission charged that he gave her access to bank accounts in his name to keep her assets and income out of creditors' reach. He also was charged with listing himself as the sole owner of the house in Hawaii for the same reason and with leasing an apartment for Yamanaka and allowing her to pay rent in cash.

But when she gave him a Mercedes, two Rolex watches and trips to Las Vegas and New York, Stringer did not report the gifts on his financial disclosure filings, according to the JQC. The commission dropped its charges after he resigned and promised never to work as a judge again.

Stringer, 66, eventually was charged with bank fraud, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of supervised release and fined $250. He is about one year into a five-year voluntary disbarment from the practice of law.

Contacted Monday, Stringer declined to discuss the case, saying only, "I'm enjoying my retirement."

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Ex-stripper who brought down appellate judge is sentenced for bank fraud 10/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 25, 2010 11:41pm]
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