A former law firm office manager and bookkeeper who was accused of writing fraudulent checks on her deceased boss's personal accounts pleaded guilty Tuesday to fraud in Miami federal court.
Sara San Martin, 39, also known as Sara Echeverria, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of bank fraud for allegedly writing checks from the personal accounts of the late Miami maritime attorney William Huggett.
Prosecutors alleged she wrote a check against Huggett's personal account at BankUnited for $236,800 to pay down her home mortgage. They said she wrote a second check for $23,079 against Huggett's money-market account at Wachovia Bank to pay off a loan on a 2003 Dodge Ram 150.
The checks were written after Huggett died of a stroke on Aug. 31, 2004 at the age of 65. But the checks displayed dates that preceded his death, according to a federal indictment handed up by a grand jury in June.
San Martin originally denied the charges in August. The guilty plea is not the result of any agreement with the government because she hasn't entered into one with the U.S. Attorney's office. She has been free on bond since her arrest in July.
In court Tuesday, San Martin tearfully answered questions posed to her by U.S. District Judge Judge Adalberto Jordan, who at one point sent a box of tissues over to her. Jordan detailed the charges brought against her and questioned her about her understanding them so he could decide if she was mentally able to enter her plea and wasn’t pressured or coerced into it.
"Did you forge Mr. Huggett's signature on the checks," Jordan asked San Martin at one point.
"Yes," she replied.
Jordan accepted San Martin's guilty plea and scheduled sentencing for Feb. 1.
After the hearing, San Martin declined comment. Her attorney, Brian Tannebaum of Miami said the emotions San Martin showed during the change of plea hearing indicate the emotional effect the case has had on her.
"We reviewed the evidence and looked at the entire case and Ms. San Martin decided that it was in her best interest to enter a plea and move on with her life," he said. "She's devastated by all of the events that have led up to today."
In August, Tannebaum said San Martin was innocent of the charges and that he had not seen any evidence that she took any money that didn’t belong to her.
San Martin could face a sentence of up to 30 years in prison for each count as well as up to $1 million in fines for each count. In an attempt to mitigate the sentence, Tannebaum said he plans to argue that the checks were written for less money than the U.S. Attorney's office alleges in the indictment. He declined to identify a figure.
Foster-Steers referred questions to a spokeswoman who could not be immediately reached for comment.
Huggett's widow, Jacqueline, declined comment, as did Anna Scornavacca, the inventory attorney appointed by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Joseph Farina Jr. to oversee the remainder of the Huggett Firm's cases. Supporters of Huggett in the courtroom gallery could be heard criticizing San Martin's tearful responses during the hearing.
It is unclear what effect San Martin's guilty plea may have on a civil case in which she is also named as a defendant along with nine other former employees of the Huggett Law Firm. That case, which is pending in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, is a dispute between Jacqueline Huggett and former employees of the Huggett Law Firm.
Jacqueline Huggett alleges that San Martin and former Huggett Law Firm associate Jay Wingate paid themselves and other employees $739,000. She alleged they misled her about the nature of some of the payments and did not tell her about others. Employees said they possess signed documentation to support their claim that Huggett had given them commitments for bonuses and vacation pay.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Bill Huggett Update
Trials and tribulations continue to flow from the office of deceased Miami maritime lawyer William Huggett. The latest news: the former law office manager and office bookkeeper has pleaded guilty to fraud before Judge Jordan: