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Pinellas man gets probation for spending mother's posthumous VA benefits

TAMPA — A longtime luxury car salesman from Pinellas County was sentenced to three years of probation and 75 hours of community service Tuesday for spending veterans benefits that arrived for his mother long after her April 2009 death.

Elliot Kahana, 69, who had no prior criminal history, could have faced up to six months in prison but instead got stern words from U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich, who reminded him not to forget his missteps.

"You got in trouble because you didn't have anybody looking over your shoulder. It's easy to do at any age," the judge, 78, said.

Kahana was apologetic. Court records show he admitted to theft when first confronted by agents from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He came to court with a $4,600 check to begin repaying his debt. Kovachevich had already entered a judgment against him for $29,400.

Kahana noted the good that he had done, mentioning efforts to build or support synagogues in Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg. His public defender, Howard Anderson, said Kahana had hit a low point in his financial affairs and had also been dealing with family issues.

Before his federal indictment, Kahana was part of a group trying to rally support for a $200 million car, yacht and jet mart, the World Transportation Exchange, in the central Florida town of Eatonville. Amid his legal problems, partners asked him to step aside.