Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg businessman wants probation for bilking clients; gets 12 years' prison

LARGO — For decades, Stanley Crooms was the kind of man who proved trustworthy — a businessman who handled money for other businesspeople, a loyal dad, a baseball coach, a private school trustee.

But Crooms recently admitted to stealing that trust, for reasons hard to fathom, by taking about $750,000 from clients, including some longtime friends.

So he came to court on Monday with a new plan: Trust me, and I'll start a new business to pay it all back.

In spite of strong support from Crooms' friends, his family and even some of his victims, a judge wasn't buying it. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton rejected a request to sentence Crooms to probation and instead gave the graying, 62-year-old St. Petersburg businessman 12 years in prison.

Newton said Crooms' plan to start a cleaning business that would soon earn profits of $7,500 per month "is just not believable at all," especially considering that he has not repaid anything to his victims since his arrest three years ago.

"All I can say is I would be a fool to believe that, and so would anyone else in this room," Newton said.

Crooms was described as a smart entrepreneur who understands how to set up companies that specialize in staffing, insurance and financial management. He also was extolled as a community leader who was a past trustee of the Canterbury School and as a father devoted to his two sons, one of whom is a law student and one of whom studied graduate-level theology.

When asked to take the witness stand himself, Crooms tearfully admitted, "I blew it" and "I didn't make the right decisions."

But even so, "I do believe I have the ability to pay your funds back," he said.

Crooms had a business handling payroll, insurance and other financial matters for real estate firms, doctors and others. He gave a vague explanation of how a bank error somehow put him in the hole $273,000, which set up a snowballing effect of bills he needed to pay.

But Assistant State Attorney Robert Bruce said that explanation didn't make sense because a lot more than $273,000 was stolen from Crooms' clients.

Several longtime friends and clients of Crooms said they still believe in him. They said he was a savvy and hardworking businessman and the kind of coach who would buy sports equipment for kids who couldn't afford it. Although Crooms pleaded guilty to 11 counts of grand theft, his friends said that behavior was an "aberration" from the man they know.

And some said they were willing to hire him again. Jamie Farquharson, owner of Beaks Old Florida tavern, said he would pay Crooms up to $800 a month for cleaning and landscaping. Samuel Boutrous, owner of the Kress Building and other St. Petersburg properties, said he could pay $1,000 to $3,000.

Defense attorney Lucas Fleming said Crooms would run the new janitorial business if Newton placed him on probation, rather than sending him to prison.

But some of Crooms' victims are still feeling the pain of what he stole and still trying to pay off the debts they incurred because of him.

"I am so mad at you, Stanley Crooms," said Michelle Foster, a registered nurse and skin care therapist. "You violated my trust as a friend."

She said she is owed $41,293.68. Among other things, she said, Crooms raided her IRA, promising to invest the funds but using the money himself. She not only lost the money, but she also had to pay the IRS penalties for the unauthorized withdrawal.

"He hurt us, and he hurt us badly," said Dr. Mark Norstein, who said Crooms stole more than $104,000 from his practice.

As for the idea that Crooms could use his business smarts to start a janitorial company, Norstein said, "I can't believe him anymore. I can't believe I'll ever see any money."

Newton also was more than skeptical. Crooms' business plan was "a fantasy," she said.

St. Petersburg businessman wants probation for bilking clients; gets 12 years' prison 12/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 7:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

  2. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.
  3. Study: Pollution kills 9 million a year, costs $4.6 trillion


    NEW DELHI — Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

    New Delhi’s landmark India Gate, a war memorial, is engulfed in morning smog on Friday.
  4. Quarterback Jameis Winston will start Sunday for the Bucs


    TAMPA — Jameis Winston hadn't thrown in practice since he injured his right shoulder in Sunday's loss at Arizona, and with that uncertainty, a wide line of TV cameras and reporters' cellphones were all out Friday morning, recording the moment as Winston tested his shoulder with his first throws early in …

    Despite a sore shoulder, Jameis Winston will be making his 38th consecutive start since being drafted first overall in 2015.
  5. Paul Rodgers replacing ZZ Top on Ribfest 2017 lineup


    In looking to replace the ailing ZZ Top, Ribfest found some good company in Bad Company.

    Paul Rodgers