No jail time for former appeals Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. in bank fraud

Former 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Thomas Stringer Sr. leaves the Sam M. Gibbons Federal Courthouse in Tampa on Friday with his wife, Lillian, after his bank fraud sentencing.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Former 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Thomas Stringer Sr. leaves the Sam M. Gibbons Federal Courthouse in Tampa on Friday with his wife, Lillian, after his bank fraud sentencing.

TAMPA — Saying Thomas E. Stringer Sr. has already endured the public humiliation of losing his judgeship and law license, a federal judge on Friday ordered him to spend one year under supervision and to pay a $250 fine for bank fraud.

Stringer, a former appeals judge, admitted in August that he lied on a loan application for a Hawaiian residence he bought with a stripper.

"You are to be commended for admitting your guilt," U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich said. "I know that was a tough thing to do, but it was the right thing to do."

Kovachevich sentenced 65-year-old Stringer to time served, noting his lack of a criminal record. The former appeals judge only spent as much time in federal custody as it took to be processed and released on the charge.

He must complete 150 hours of community service. He also must forfeit the $222,362 profit he got from selling the Hawaii house.

Sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of zero to six months. The U.S. Attorney's Office did not seek prison time, in part because the crime had nothing to do with Stringer's public office.

"It was very much a private matter," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill said. "Do I think Judge Stringer would ever commit another crime? No, your honor, I don't."

Stringer faced a maximum million-dollar fine. At $250, the minimum fine, he will pay less than a person convicted of driving drunk.

After more than 30 years of distinguished service as a lawyer and judge, Stringer resigned from the 2nd District Court of Appeal in February under a cloud of questions about his financial dealings.

The state Judicial Qualifications Commission had accused him of taking unreported gifts from 49-year-old Christy Yamanaka, a stripper he befriended about 15 years ago, and helping hide her assets from creditors. She could not be reached for comment Friday.

In July, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Stringer with fraudulently obtaining a $350,000 mortgage for the residence. On a loan application in 2004, he claimed that none of the money used for the down payment was borrowed, when in fact he had gotten the cash from someone else.

Last month, the Florida Supreme Court disbarred him for five years.

Defense attorney John Lauro argued that Stringer should be judged by the sum of his life rather than a single mistake. In a document submitted before the hearing, Lauro pointed out that his client's long record of service included helping the indigent, serving as a mentor to young people and working with his alma mater, Stetson University College of Law, to improve the legal profession.

Stringer was Stetson's first black law school graduate and Hillsborough County's first black circuit judge. Appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in February 1999, he heard cases from 14 counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

"Mr. Stringer's false statement on a mortgage application represents an aberration from a life of integrity and selfless service in the community," Lauro wrote. "His actions in no way involved a misuse of his judicial position, nor did they result in a financial loss to anyone."

The former judge's supporters in court Friday included his wife Lillian Stringer, who serves as director of public relations for the Tampa Housing Authority.

Thomas Stringer apologized to her, his children, colleagues and law school. He said it pained him to think about the damage he had wrought on their reputations.

He also took note of his personal ruin.

"I destroyed a career," he said, "that I worked hard to attain and that I truly loved."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

No jail time for former appeals Judge Thomas E. Stringer Sr. in bank fraud 11/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 12:09am]

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