TAMPA — A man who admitted to his role in a scheme to sell almost $3 million in Social Security checks was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in federal prison.
Richard Lee Anderson, 38, claimed he wasn't aware of just how serious his crime was.
"I'm sorry for everybody that I hurt," Anderson said. "I was drinking … I didn't realize I was I was in this much trouble, sir."
Prosecutors said Anderson was involved in fencing the stolen checks, which he obtained from Stacy Darnell Mitchell, a former Postal Service employee who worked at a mail processing facility in St. Petersburg.
The thefts occurred throughout 2012, with stolen checks intended for Social Security beneficiaries living in Pinellas County. In October of that year, the Tampa Police Department recovered more than 200 of the checks, totaling more than $100,000, from a home in the Highland Pines neighborhood.
Witnesses later told investigators that Anderson would distribute the checks to other people in return for 15 percent of their face value, according to a plea agreement.
A jury found Mitchell guilty in January of theft of government property and theft of mail.
He faces up to 15 years in prison. A sentencing hearing in his case is scheduled for April 5.
Anderson told U.S. District Judge James S. Moody that his troubles were the result of falling in with the wrong group of people. He said he wants to move away from Tampa once he has served his sentence.
His attorney, Mark Ciaravella, portrayed Anderson as an unwitting target of Mitchell. He noted that Anderson cannot read or write and struggles with substance abuse.
"He was picked for this," Ciaravella said. "And now he's bearing — as was designed by Mr. Mitchell — the full brunt of this offense."
The attorney also said that although the scheme involved millions, Anderson obtained only about $10,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Scruggs acknowledged Anderson's cooperation in the case against Mitchell, which led the government to seek a sentence less than the 10 years Anderson originally faced.
But the prosecutor also noted Anderson's criminal history, which includes several drug-related convictions.
He also alluded to a separate federal criminal case, for which Anderson is already serving six years. In that case, he admitted to selling a revolver to an informer for the government, an illegal act given his prior felony convictions.
Moody ordered Anderson's seven-year sentence to run concurrent to his sentence in an illegal gun case. He also ordered Anderson to pay more than $700,000 in restitution to the Social Security Administration and to undergo substance abuse treatment.
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.