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RYAN REPAYS $50K IN THEFT

In addition to the restitution, her defense team offers an explanation: chemo brain.

A member of former finance director JoAnne Ryan's legal team delivered a check for $50,000 to City Hall on Thursday - just days before her sentencing on a second-degree grand theft charge.

Her lawyer, Ronnie Crider, said the payment is not a bid for sympathy from the judge in her sentencing scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Monday at the Criminal Justice Center, 14250 49th St. N, Clearwater. But it "is certainly to show good faith, that she wants to pay restitution,'' he said.

Crider also has compiled a 95-page memorandum that raises the theory that chemotherapy used to treat Ryan's breast cancer was a factor in her wrongdoing. He plans to submit the document to the court at sentencing.

It also includes 57 letters in support of Ryan, one against, a petition with 90 signatures asking for mercy and photos showing her family in happier times.

Mayor Andy Steingold said the $50,000 likely will be used to offset any general fund expenditures next year.

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Ryan was fired in August 2008 after City Manager Matt Spoor discovered that she had been using the city's credit card to buy personal things since 2007, mostly in connection with a basketball team on which her daughters played.

She was arrested the next month and charged with making more than $15,000 in American Express charges.

In April, auditors hired by the city found that more than $215,000 had vanished in the last year Ryan headed the finance department.

Ryan accepted a plea deal to second-degree grand theft, carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years. But she was given a deal that means she will serve no more than two years. However, Ryan may serve no prison time at all.

"I'm glad that the residents of Safety Harbor are being reimbursed for some of the money that Ms. Ryan stole, but $50,000 is only a portion of what was taken,'' Spoor wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "No amount of money will repair the lost trust some of our residents experienced in their city government, thanks to Ms. Ryan.''

Assistant State Attorney Gregory Groger said his office settled on $128,000 in restitution "based on the information we have and it was agreed upon by the defense.''

"The city, they believe it's more (that was stolen),'' he said.

Crider, however, said the amount taken is closer to $88,000, but Ryan is willing to pay the $128,000 because she is remorseful and wants to do the right thing.

"Nobody said, 'You pay this $50,000 up front and you'll get probation,''' he said.

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Among the letters of support in Crider's memorandum:

- A friend from college, Richard Marshall, wrote that in school, Ryan used her personal time to positively affect the lives of young people in the community.

"Throughout the past 30 years, I have watched JoAnne grow as a person, raise four wonderful children, expand her professional career and courageously battle cancer,'' he wrote. "I am convinced that, in some way, emotional and behavioral changes caused by chemotherapy treatment contributed to the unfortunate mistakes JoAnne has made.''

- William Wightman, a friend from Safety Harbor, wrote that throughout this ordeal Ryan's husband and children have suffered and will continue to do so for some time.

"I know she has grieved tremendously over her family's suffering as a result of her actions,'' he wrote. "Therefore, I am asking for your leniency.''

But former Mayor Pam Corbino and her husband, Gerard Corbino, wrote that they and many people they know will be greatly disturbed if Ryan does not serve time.

"Ms. Ryan held a position of the highest trust in this community, one for which she was well compensated,'' the couple wrote. "In using her position in such a disgraceful and deceitful way, she ignored any sense of honor and has seriously eroded the confidence we place in public service.''

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In the memorandum, Crider also describes Ryan's struggles with breast cancer and how the chemotherapy treatments she endured could have led to the theft.

Ryan was diagnosed with the disease in 2003 and underwent several surgeries as well as a rigorous regimen of chemotherapy in 2004.

"The chemotherapy had a dramatic and debilitating effect on her initially, but more importantly, it affected her ability to remember, concentrate, and to a lesser extent her judgment,'' he wrote. "JoAnne was competent mentally throughout this period of time and remains so to this day.

"There is no suggestion that her ability to understand the nature and consequences of her acts, and to distinguish right from wrong was ever impaired. There is, however, a clear indication of significant mental consequences as a result of her cancer treatment.''

According to the American Cancer Society, cancer survivors have been frustrated with the mental cloudiness they notice before, during and after chemotherapy. Doctors don't know its exact cause, but this mental fog is known as chemo brain.

Research has shown that some cancer drugs can cause changes in the brain. Imaging tests have shown that in some patients, the parts of the brain that deal with memory, planning, putting thoughts into action, monitoring thought processes and behavior, and inhibition are smaller after chemotherapy.

Crider said Ryan was examined by the medical staff at Moffitt Cancer Center and was referred to Dr. Walter Afield, who conducted a complete psychiatric evaluation of her which will be submitted to the court.

"Dr. Afield's evaluation is enlightening in terms of helping to explain JoAnne's lack of judgment in committing this offense,'' he wrote.

He is scheduled to testify on Monday, Crider said.

"I am empathetic toward her disease and treatment, but that is no excuse for criminal intent displayed in multiple thefts,'' Mayor Andy Steingold said.

According to Crider, if Ryan is given probation, she plans to move to Ocala, where her husband, Tim Ryan, coaches basketball at Central Florida Community College; get a job and make monthly restitution payments of $500 a month.

"She's got these young kids that need her,'' Crider said. "There's no chance she's going to do anything like this again.''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

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