'Shame and sorrow' for Sweeten

Posted: January 27, 2012

FOR ALMOST 30 minutes yesterday, embezzler Bonnie Sweeten told a federal judge that she was "very sorry" to all the victims she scammed of more than $1 million over four years.

"Not a day that goes by," she said, that she doesn't feel "shame and sorrow" for her actions. "How could I do these things to people that trusted me, to my family?" she asked.

At one point, she turned to her parents, who were sitting in the courtroom. "You didn't raise me this way," she said, sobbing.

U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. sentenced her to more than eight years in a federal lockup and ordered her to pay almost $1.1 million in restitution to her victims. (Sweeten will be given credit for time already served. She has been in federal custody since June 25, 2010.)

Yohn said the scope and complexity of Sweeten's fraud was "breathtaking."

The judge described the 41-year-old Bucks County mother of three and former law firm office manager - who pleaded guilty last June to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft - as a "master conwoman who deceived person after person."

Prosecutors said that between April 2005 and May 2009, Sweeten stole from family members, from the law office and from the law firm's clients to support a more affluent lifestyle.

Sweeten gained national notoriety in May 2009, when she called 9-1-1 and falsely reported she and her 9-year-old daughter had been abducted by two black men. She was arrested the next day in Disney World, in Orlando, Fla., where she had fled with her child by using a stolen identity. Sweeten served almost a year in the Bucks County prison in connection with the incident.

Sweeten's fraud began in September 2006, when she posed as Debbie Carlitz, who owned the law firm where she worked, at a property settlement. Sweeten later obtained a $100,000 mortgage on the law-office property to repay a personal loan.

Carlitz declined to comment after the sentencing.

In fall 2008, Sweeten stole more than $280,000 from the retirement account of an elderly relative, Victor Biondino, who suffered from dementia, in order to pay back a law-firm client whom she had stolen from.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf said yesterday that Sweeten may appear to be "your typical suburban soccer mom," but her "brazen" conduct had shown Sweeten to be a "hardened criminal and a master con artist."

Assistant Federal Defender James J. McHugh Jr. sought leniency for Sweeten, noting that she already had been punished by the dissolution of her marriage and loss of reputation, and that she has been a model prisoner while in federal custody.

McHugh noted that Sweeten had not been "predisposed to criminality" before 2005 and attributed the onset of her crime spree to dependency on a drug used to treat her migraines.

But Yohn had the last word. Addressing Sweeten after pronouncing sentence, he told her: "You've done great wrong and you have to pay the price."

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