|Woman pleads guilty to embezzlement of $856K|
Article Courtesy of The Pensacola News Journal
By Kris Wernowsky
Published February 19, 2010
Tina Mitchell spent lavishly on vacations, clothes and expensive liquors.
She spent a "horrendous amount of money" on Mary Kay products that she sold as a side business. She became one of the company's big sellers, a distinction that comes complete with a cotton-candy-pink Cadillac.
The only problem: That money wasn't hers, the man who prosecuted her said.
Mitchell lined her pockets with $856,126 embezzled from five local homeowners associations between 2006 and 2009 while she worked as an association representative for Montgomery Management Associates.
Mitchell pleaded guilty Tuesday to three counts of money laundering of more than $100,000; one count of money laundering between $20,000 and $100,000; two counts of grand theft over $100,000; and three counts of grand theft between $20,000 and $100,000.
In an interview at her Ensley home Wednesday, the 40-year-old said her behavior is the result of an undiagnosed bipolar disorder that made her manic and led her to steal.
"My heart wants people to know there is more than what's going on," she said. "You can see we don't live a lavish lifestyle."
She said the trips referred to by prosecutors were all business trips. The pink Cadillac was nowhere to be seen outside her home, a modest, one-level, brick ranch-style house behind a dentist office parking lot near the intersection of Palafox Street and Nine Mile Road.
Mitchell will face 19 to 210 years in state prison at a March 15 sentencing hearing in Escambia County before Circuit Judge Terry Terrell.
Mitchell is said to have stolen from the Sabine Yacht and Racquet Club, Sailwind Condominium Association of Gulf Breeze, Heron's Forest Property Owners Association, Bayview Terrace and Bay Wind Homeowner Associations.
Homeowner associations boards often pay outside property managers. Mitchell handled bookkeeping and had access to the association accounts.
"She did sort of everything for these homeowners associations, including take all of their money," Assistant State Attorney Tory Bouk said.
Cheryl Pyle, president of the Heron's Forest Property Owners Association, estimated Mitchell's thefts involved money that nearly 450 homeowners paid to associations and condominium boards.
"It's been very costly and stressful to the boards and the homeowners involved in this," Pyle said. "It is such a serious case. It's time for her to go to prison. Never has she been remorseful. Never has she suggested where any of the money has gone."
The Sabine Yacht and Racquet Club has filed a civil lawsuit against Mitchell in an attempt to recover some of the money.
Bouk, a prosecutor who also is a certified public accountant, said Mitchell used at least 22 bank accounts to conceal her thefts. When questions were raised about overdrafts and large withdrawals, she shifted money from other accounts to cover.
Mitchell admitted taking money from the accounts after company officials questioned her in March, according to a Pensacola police arrest report.
"I came clean," she said. "There's a lot of remorse. This was not a malicious act."
Mitchell told investigators she scanned the signatures of Montgomery managers, then printed them onto the checks. She said she obtained the blank checks from the back of a stack in the office.
The checks were made payable to Michael Mitchell, M Mitchell or Mitchell Maintenance, according to the arrest report. Michael Mitchell is Tina Mitchell's husband. She said they since have separated and that she acted alone in her scheme.
Bouk said investigators have been unable to recover the money.
"Everything is gone. In this case she drained the resources of five homeowners associations," he said. "She spent it on Mary Kay and PayPal and online shopping."