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Friday, Aug 22, 2014

Ex-bank exec gets 2 years for fraud


Published:

TAMPA - Susan Emily Jones was a big giver.

She gave Idlewild Baptist Church $12,500, and $20,000 more went to Exciting Central Tampa Baptist Church. She gave away Tampa Bay Buccanners tickets to coworkers by the fistful.

Her benevolence wasn't real, though: The money wasn't hers to give.

Jones stole $800,000 from her employer over seven years. She gave about a quarter of that to local churches and charities, her lawyer said at her sentencing hearing Tuesday.

"We have an individual who was not stealing ... for the sake of spending," attorney Paul Sisco said Tuesday in court. "A significant amount of money went to charitable causes."

Sisco said he was not using a "Robin Hood" defense, referring to the mythical character who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, to get a reduced sentence for Jones, who faced a maximum of 41 months in prison on a charge of wire fraud.

Instead, Sisco said, he wanted to "cast the expenditures in an accurate light."

U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday said Jones committed a serious crime and sentenced her to two years in prison and three years of probation. Court documents noted that, charitable contributions aside, Jones used most of the money for herself, primarily for travel expenses and cosmetic surgery.

Jones, who pleaded guilty in January, also was ordered to pay restitution totaling $824,301, the amount she stole when she was a vice president at a local CitiBank office, Merryday said.

Jones is unlikely to repay much of that money, however; her attorney said she is nearly broke.

Jones began her scheme to defraud the company in 2004, prosecutors said. It ended in June 2011, when CitiBank fraud investigators interviewed her for more than three hours.

Jones used her position as vice president and senior business director of Citi Travel Payment Services to take control of money transfers and expenses, court documents show.

Prosecutors said Jones donated about $200,000 to six churches and charities. The checks came from a CitiBank account and not that of Jones.

Brian McDougall, Idlewild's executive pastor, said he has never met Jones and that authorities have not contacted his church about returning the $12,500.

Jones also used CitiBank's accounts to buy tens of thousands of dollars worth of club seats for Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games, prosecutors said. Jones used the club seats for herself and gave the tickets primarily to her fellow CitiBank employees, court documents show.

Merryday said Jones' crime "involved a lot of money over a long period of time."

"And in that time, the defendant did not think better of the course she was taking," the judge said.

Jones tearfully read a statement to the court apologizing for her actions.

"I am embarrassed and ashamed," she said. "I'm asking my friends and church members for support. I ask the court for mercy. At this point, I can't turn back the hands of time. I was wrong."

Jones, 50, said she felt a "sense of cause and self-worth" by giving $200,000 of the stolen money to charity.

She said her "world fell apart" and that she was terrified when she was interviewed by CitiBank fraud investigators in June 2011.

Since then, she has been unemployed, Sisco said, and has had to forfeit her car, her house and thousands of dollars she had in three accounts.

"As she stands before the court for sentencing, her total available cash is now less than $2,000," Sisco said. "She has been financially broken and faces the career prospects that come with the reality of now being a convicted felon."

Merryday said Jones' actions were not uncommon.

"You are bright, accomplished, successful and were comfortable in a material sense," Merryday said. "You were able to have a typical, prosperous, American existence."

Although somewhat puzzling, it is not uncommon in cases involving diversion of funds that persons have gone to contribute to noble, worthy and beneficial causes."

rreyes@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7920

Twitter@TBORay

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