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Feds charge former 2nd DCA Judge Thomas Stringer with bank fraud

TAMPA — Former appeals Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. has agreed to plead guilty to a federal bank fraud charge that arose from a Hawaii home he bought with a stripper.

The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Stringer on Thursday with fraudulently obtaining a $350,000 mortgage for the residence.

Stringer, who resigned from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in February amid questions about his financial dealings, admitted in a plea agreement that he lied on the loan application.

On Nov. 22, 2004, he answered "no" when asked, "Is any part of the down payment borrowed?"

That same day, Stringer wired funds for the down payment from a bank account in Tampa to bank in Hawaii. But he got the cash from a woman.

She isn't named in court documents. But the St. Petersburg Times previously reported that the judge jointly invested in the house with Christy Yamanaka, a stripper he befriended about 15 years ago.

That purchase has brought Stringer a world of grief.

Claiming she didn't get her share of profits when the house sold for $749,000 in December 2006, Yamanaka took her grievances against the judge to the media and federal authorities last year.

Her allegations marred Stringer's previously unblemished tenure on the bench and spiraled into ethics charges, his resignation and, now, a federal prosecution.

Stringer is remorseful for his error in judgment, one of his attorneys said Thursday. The attorney, Lansing Scriven, stressed that Stringer's conduct did not involve "any abuse of his office as a judge," a point echoed by prosecutors.

"This isolated incident in no way detracts from Judge Stringer's distinguished career as an attorney, judge and public servant," Scriven said in a prepared statement.

Yamanaka, 49, declined to comment Thursday.

A judge will decide how Stringer should be punished for the bank fraud charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Prosecutors said sentencing guidelines suggest a non-prison sentence. No one sustained a loss from the crime, prosecutors said, and the loan was repaid on time and in full. They will recommend he receive credit for cooperating with investigators and accepting responsibility.

The government will seek to recoup from Stringer the $222,362 in proceeds he gained from selling the home in Hawaii.

As part of the plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa agreed not to pursue further charges against Stringer for his conduct related to the house purchase.

That seems to indicate he won't face more legal trouble for a host of other allegations raised against him by Yamanaka and the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which filed misconduct charges against Stringer a month before he resigned.

The JQC accused Stringer of helping Yamanaka, a New York City stripper, hide her assets and income after a judge threw out her bankruptcy petition and ordered her to pay creditors about $315,000.

Starting in 2004, according to the JQC, Stringer provided Yamanaka with access to bank accounts opened in his name to keep her money out of creditors' reach. He listed himself as the sole title holder on the Hawaii residence in order to hide her interest in the property.

He also was accused of taking gifts from her — two Rolex watches, vacations to Las Vegas and New York City and a 2001 Mercedes — that he never reported on his financial disclosure forms.

The JQC dismissed its charges in March, citing Stringer's resignation and his promise to never again serve on the bench.

Stringer, 65, is a married father of five adult children who served more than two decades as a judge. He made history as Stetson University's first black law school graduate and as Hillsborough County's first black circuit judge. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to the 2nd DCA in February 1999.

That he now faces criminal prosecution saddens and angers one longtime family friend, veteran lawyer Delano Stewart.

"To say that he disappointed me would be very, very much an understatement," Stewart said. "This town was very good to Tom Stringer. He had power, and all he had to do was abide by the law."

Times staff writer Kevin Graham contributed to this report. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Feds charge former 2nd DCA Judge Thomas Stringer with bank fraud 07/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 6:07pm]

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