Article Courtesy of The Naples
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
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
“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
“I’m giving you 20 years to make
restitution to these people, if you can,” Hardt told Copeland, who wiped
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,”
sentencing, Foster said he was satisfied with Copeland’s term, but
didn’t expect that restitution would ever be paid.