Embezzler gets 10 years in prison, 20 years probation

Article Courtesy of The Naples Daily News

By Aisling Swift

Published August 13, 2009 

— Amy M. Copeland doesn’t know what she did with the nearly $100,000 she embezzled over roughly three years.

The money coming into her household was less than the cash going out, so the accounts manager dipped into the bank accounts of 22 home and condo owner associations managed by the company she worked for, Integrated Property Management on 10th Street North in Naples. She stole small amounts, $1,000 here and there, or an amount equal to a homeowner association payment so it wouldn’t be noticed.

“I wish I had it all in a bank someplace and could give it back, but I can’t,” the 39-year-old Copeland of Naples told Assistant State Attorney James Molenaar at her sentencing hearing Thursday, adding that it went to pay her rent, car payments and therapy for her two autistic sons. “It’s not like I was out living the high life or anything.”

Detective Tom Muscato of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes Unit said he’d subpoenaed Copeland’s bank records and determined that Copeland made 63 electronic transfers out of association accounts from September 2005 to December 2008. “Basically, every cent of that money went into her personal account at Wachovia,” Muscato said.

Among the associations hit were Egrets Walk in Pelican Marsh, Village Walk, Pebble Creek, Middlebrook at Ave Maria, and Regency Reserve; all thefts were covered by Integrated Property Management insurance.

Copeland had rejected a plea offer for a 10-year state prison term and left her sentence in the hands of Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt.

She pleaded for leniency, telling him, “The disgust that people have for me, I get it. I feel it myself,” Copeland said, wiping away tears.

Her mother, Jo Murphy, who worked at Integrated Property Management and resigned after her daughter was fired, also asked for leniency. “Restitution can’t be made if she’s sitting in jail,” Murphy said.

She contended her daughter had been punished long ago. “She has lost her husband, her children, her car, her career,” Murphy said. “She’s lost her self worth.”

Noting that the Department of Corrections pre-sentence investigation report recommended 15 years of probation, Assistant Public Defender Mike Mummert urged probation so Copeland could begin paying Integrated Property Management back.

“I just ask that we don’t deprive a child of a mother for longer than is necessary,” Mummert said, citing her autistic sons.

But David Foster, who owns Integrated Property Management with his wife Amy, asked Hardt to impose a 19-year sentence.

“We spent 19 years building up this company to where it is now,” Foster explained, noting that he’d lost about nine of the 130 home and condo association accounts due to distrust after the thefts.

As Copeland cried, Hardt sentenced her to two concurrent terms of 10 years in prison followed by 20 years of probation for white collar crime involving at least 20 victims and more than $50,000 and grand theft of $20,000 to $100,000, both first-degree felonies.

“I’m giving you 20 years to make restitution to these people, if you can,” Hardt told Copeland, who wiped away tears.

Hardt, who adjudicated her guilty after she pleaded no contest, also meted out 20 concurrent terms of five years each for the remaining third-degree grand theft charges, and a year for a misdemeanor, petty theft.

Copeland faced up to 30 years on the top charges, and got the maximum for the lesser charges. She faced up to 150 years if all offenses were added consecutively, but will serve about 85 percent of the 10-year prison term.

She’d been free on $68,500 bond since her arrest on March 26 and had even scheduled a job interview for the day after her sentencing. Instead, she was fingerprinted, gave a DNA sample and got a new outfit — an orange jail jumpsuit.

The embezzlement was discovered after Foster met with employees to ask about any concerns. One mentioned that Integrated Property Management was paying a lot of late fees. Foster ended up reimbursing one association $976 in taxes that weren’t paid. He then tried to access his account to determine what was going on, but said Copeland had changed his password.

So he called Colonial Bank and learned the money was transferred to a Wachovia Bank account. Wachovia revealed it belonged to Copeland.

“She was an exceptional employee,” Foster said, adding that he supervised her closely initially, until he trusted her. “Her accounting skills were the best we’d ever seen.”

When he confronted her, she admitted stealing money, but not as much as was later discovered, and he fired her.

Foster estimated his losses at $136,000, including money spent for an audit and a $500 deductible it lost when its insurance company reimbursed it for the stolen $98,198. He also cited money lost after the nine associations dropped his firm.

A restitution hearing will be held at a later date to determine how much Copeland must pay.

Lynn Miller, whose association at the Boulevard Club was hit, told the judge that bank officials informed her there was a more secure way to pay the fees.

“She never told us about this more secure procedure because it would have eliminated her ability to steal from us,” Miller said of the electronic fund transfers.

Miller said her association is composed of mostly senior citizens. “That makes this crime particularly heinous,” she said.

After sentencing, Foster said he was satisfied with Copeland’s term, but didn’t expect that restitution would ever be paid.

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