“A gambling problem can negatively affect an individual’s home life, financial status, career, education, social relationships, and physical and emotional health.”
These words can be found on the helpline page of The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling’s website.
Their mission statement demonstrates that they’re “committed to increasing public awareness about problem and compulsive gambling.”
Similar to all types of compulsions and addictions, a gambling problem most likely has something to do with hereditary traits. Most addicts of any type have “the gene” that allows them to become an addict.
Some people can drink socially yet never “need” a drink or ever become an alcoholic, just as many can enjoy a cigarette or two every now and then but will never be considered a smoker.
The same criteria fit those who can gamble in many forms but never become addicted to the “rush” of playing the many types of gambling sources legally offered throughout the state.
Florida offers Parimutuel betting of an assorted variety including horse racing (thoroughbred and harness) as well as greyhound racing, which is commonly known as betting on the dogs. Jai Alai is also a form of gambling that Florida and Texas offer along with casino gambling which has exploded since the Seminole tribe formed a partnership in conjunction with the Hard Rock Café chain. And of course there’s the Florida Lottery where for only a buck, although the odds are very high against winning you can still become an instant millionaire.
When writing an article for this blog I always keep three variables in mind. Does it deal with cases from South Florida; is it a current case, and will it spur public interest? I also try to limit the cases I write about to federal crimes which is the specialty of my practice.
I usually don’t write about cases that I’m personally involved with, yet the article written below not only fits the criteria I use when choosing a story to write about, it’s also a very interesting storyline.
Late last year in my first meeting with Donna Carman, it was obvious how fearful she was after the government had charged her with theft from the organization she worked for. Carman was the executive director of a Florida nonprofit housing entity, which is headquartered in Indiantown within western Martin County. The facility is underwritten by federal funds, loans and grants. In October of last year she formally pleaded guilty to a charge of theft from an organization receiving federal funds. Her worry was well-founded as the maximum sentence for being found guilty of the crime the prosecution was pursuing is punishable by 10 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the loss or gain caused by the alleged criminal activity.
After listening to the extent of her dilemma I was quick to assure her that the federal sentencing guidelines are not normally enforced to their maximum, when a judge establishes a sentence for a federal crime.
Not that the government didn’t have ample credible evidence against her to succeed with an outcome of guilt. However the prosecution when laying out their case and more so the judge will always take two factors into consideration when deciding on a punishment for the crime. These considerations are known as mitigating circumstances that weigh in the defendant’s favor for leniency or aggravating circumstances which are factors supporting a stiffer sentence. A prosecutor may recommend a lighter sentence based on many mitigating criterium although it’s the judge’s final decision no matter what the prosecution recommends in their sentencing memo. The case was heard at the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce by U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez.
The charges against my client was stated as siphoning up to $50,000 through the use of a credit card she was authorized to use on behalf of the corporation. The government contended that Carman used the federal funds for her own private use, including but not limited to paying contractors to make repairs to her own personal property as well as purchases from a Jensen Beach sporting goods store; plane tickets and hotel stays to Ohio and Veracruz, Mexico, as well as an expensive dinner she sported for at an upscale membership club between early 2013 and late 2015.
And the government had the receipts.
It should be understood before I lay out the pros and cons of Carman’s case that the prosecution via the U.S. Probation Office had primarily determined and presented the judge a sentencing guideline memo with a range of six months to a year in federal prison which they believed would be ample punishment to fit the crime Carman allegedly committed.
So let’s dig deep into the circumstances of Carman’s case that led up to charges being filed as I prepared before the judge and prosecutor at the helm of her case.
If you check the above “receipts” I mentioned which was in the possession of the prosecution as evidence, it’s simple to note that the total amount would most likely add up to under $5000. But the quantification of the amount embezzled through the use of the company credit card, was in the vicinity of a much more substantial $50,000.
So where did the other 90 percent of the alleged misappropriated funds go?
Speaking with my client I was advised she developed a gambling problem. Without revealing what is certainly attorney-client privilege, and due to the fact the exact gambling method didn’t appear in court documents I can only reveal in this article that one or more of the above stated methods of Florida’s legal gambling offerings mentioned at the top of this page led to her crossing the line.
When asked for comment by reporters from tcpalm.com, a Treasure Coast Online Newspaper affiliated with USA Today that was covering the case relating to Carman’s gambling issue, I replied in the friendliest way possible “I’ll let the fillings speak for themselves.” I also explained when questioned about Carman’s alleged criminal conduct that based on my personal knowledge, I’d come to learn about the (at the time) 59-year old woman, her actions “represented aberrant behavior.”
In her own mind it’s possible she believed she could return the money she took with profits and winnings while keeping the balance. But of course that could only be considered conjecture as the defendant’s rebuttal was introduced to the court through the oral argument I presented on my client’s behalf.
This presentation was not relayed to lessen the gravity of the offense. It was only relayed to the court to assist in what Carman’s state of mind may have been during the period of the crime’s commission.
Before this sudden fall from grace, Carman seemed to have led an exemplary life, and HER “receipts were presented by in-person character witnesses, and letters provided directly to Judge Martinez. In my rebuttal to the government’s case I pointed out to the court Carman’s decades of community work, her age and other factors, in asking Judge Martinez to go “slightly below” the sentencing range and order her to serve a term of probation.
Included in more than three dozen sympathetic and heart-felt letters to the court seeking leniency for my client, members of prominence from inside the community only had superb declarations pertaining to Donna Carman. These letters of Carman’s character and the good she had done for the community throughout the many years she resided there since the early 1970s included missives from Indiantown Council Members, a Chamber of Commerce ambassador and the President of the Indiantown Gas Company illuminating her selfless lifestyle, and scores of steadfast good deeds.
One Council Member cited her over 40-year friendship with the defendant: recounting their working close together for a variety of organizations including Christmas parades and the Jaycees. She went on to write to the court, “In light of Mrs. Carman’s years of constant selfless community service and involvement, and for the good that she has done… I am requesting leniency and mercy be considered on her behalf.”
A Chamber of Commerce member described Carman as “a pillar of this community,” and wrote to the judge personally requesting “I hope that you read this letter and see the wonderful, hardworking, caring person that Donna Carman truly is and not the Donna Carman that made a mistake… True justice demands that her punishment be minimal, in service to the people and community that she has served her entire life, and not being taken from them.”
The Gas Company Executive along with his wife expressed through their letter to the court that during twenty years of service, Carman “has tackled some of our town’s toughest challenges, including homelessness, hunger and the elderly… Through the years, she has made sure families are fed and clothed, kids have school supplies and our elderly are taken care of… Suffice it to say that Ms. Carman led a stellar life and was a pillar of her community with a wonderful family,” as noted by court documents. The Executive’s wife, who also had a personal relationship with my client continued by penning to the judge “She is simply selfless when it comes to serving our community… Ms. Carman had never previously violated the law and her conduct in the present matter was tied to an unfortunate gambling addiction she developed.”
Yet as with all federal criminal matters the government has to do their job. Despite all the character witnesses and letters to the court, the Assistant U.S. Attorney rejected my request for Carman’s probation and in his final argument to the court filed in mid-December of last year, argued that Carman should serve at a minimum three months in federal prison followed by three months of home detention.
At the conclusion of the hearing court papers reflecting the AUSA’s remarks stated to the court: “There is a distinct absence of mistake in how Carman perpetrated the crime. Carman’s actions were purposefully calculated to deceive… as for Carman’s motive, her gambling addiction appears to be the culprit.”
However, the government’s advocate also clearly noted as well that Carman’s background “reveals instances of good character on her part.
“Nevertheless, Carman’s prior good deeds, on balance, do not negate the fraud she perpetrated during her tenure at Indiantown,” he argued.
“A sentence of three months’ imprisonment followed by three months of home detention adequately accounts for Carman’s history and characteristics.”
Even though the government’s case against my client was strong I couldn’t help but give her a thin smile as the case was adjourned pending the judge’s final decision. Although her culpability for the crime she committed was apparent I felt that the defense I presented, her obvious remorse along with the outpouring of support she was enveloped with would yield the best outcome possible, by a prosecution and judge that appeared to be moved by the counter argument.
The best outcome a defense lawyer and their client can hope for is that the mitigating circumstances presented at trial or directly to a judge at a bench trial will affect a decision of no period of incarceration.
Last month accompanied by her husband, her Indiantown pastor, about 10 friends and various other supporters, Carman was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez to five years’ probation in addition to 360 days of home confinement. She was also ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution and a $10,000 fine during the brief sentencing hearing.
As Carman’s attorney when I was asked for comment after the judge came down with his ruling, I told all interested parties “She was obviously relieved, but she was also very repentant in front of the court… I think that’s really how she felt, very sorry about what happened. I’m sure Ms. Carman is glad this is behind her and I know she wants to get on with her life and good deeds.”
The final press release located on the DOJ’s website can be found by clicking this link: (Case No. 19-CR-14039).
Michael B. Cohen, Esq. is a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney whose expertise in federal cases is extensive. As a former Assistant State Attorney for Broward County, and an Assistant United States Attorney for the government, Mr. Cohen clients receive the best sought possible outcome refuting any charges alleged by the State of Florida or the Federal Government. Working for the prosecution prior to founding his criminal defense practice in the private sector has given him a superior advantage that will result beneficially for those who seek his help. If you, a family member or close friend is charged with any type of federal crime, call Mr. Cohen at the earliest possible time for a free case evaluation.