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  1. News

Scientists sentenced in fraud case

Matt 
Aldissi

TAMPA — In the days before she was sentenced, the former scientist packed up her Belleair Beach house and made arrangements for her teenage son to live with a neighbor.

"I beg you, just give me more time to spend with him," Anastasia Bogomolova pleaded with a federal judge Thursday. If she could only postpone her imprisonment until next June, she could see her 13-year-old graduate from middle school.

"He's not ready. He's young," she said.

Unmoved, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington ordered Bogomolova, 52, taken into custody immediately, and her husband, Matt Aldissi, 62, returned to prison, where he has been since his arrest. She sentenced her to 13 years and him to 15 years in prison on more than a dozen charges of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and falsification of records.

Prosecutors said that for over a decade, the couple — both accomplished scientists with Ph.D.s and no criminal history — had swindled the government, securing $10 million in research grants through fraud.

As far back as 1999, prosecutors said, the couple had fabricated letters of support, cutting and pasting the signatures of more than 50 researchers, some of whom had once endorsed their work but were entirely unaware their names and reputations were being recycled and added onto new grant applications.

The couple also was accused of lying about having a laboratory and spending long stretches of time in France while they were being paid to do research in the United States. In March, a jury convicted them of all charges.

Although sentencing guidelines permitted the couple to be imprisoned for several decades, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Palermo asked the judge for no more than 15 years for Aldissi and requested a lighter sentence for Bogomolova than for her husband.

"I have very little sympathy for Aldissi," Palermo said, calling the chemist's actions "cold and calculated and predatory." But Bogomolova appeared to be a lesser player, he said.

Describing her as almost worshipful of her husband, Palermo said he doubted that without her husband's influence, she would ever have become involved in a plan to defraud the government.

Bogomolova's lawyer Lyann Goudie agreed and called her client "naive."

Covington praised the prosecutor's compassion but said there was no reason to believe that Bogomolova, a molecular biologist with years of education behind her, was less culpable.

"She knew what she was doing, and she's not a stupid person," the judge said, nevertheless agreeing to a shorter sentence. She expressed sympathy for the dozens of scientists and researchers whose names were used to promote the couple's work and doubted that restitution would ever be paid in full.

"Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if there's money overseas the government will never be able to recoup," the judge said.

Bogomolova was born in Russia and has been described as belonging to a family of scientists. Recruited to work at Tufts University, she came to the United States and, in 1997, married Aldissi, who was born in Jordan and raised in France. Both eventually became United States citizens.

As neither of them have family living in the United States, they have entrusted their son to an across-the-street neighbor, where he will be able to watch as his home becomes government property.

"She is despondent," Goudie said of Bogomolova.

Aldissi's lawyer Todd Foster said the judge's decision to depart from the sentencing guidelines was proof that the way in which they are calculated in fraud cases is "out of control." He pointed to the case of former Enron Corp CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who is serving a 14-year sentence for lying to investigators about the company's financial health.

"Can you really tell me Aldissi is a worse offender than Skilling?" Foster asked.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

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