Woman pleads guilty to mail fraud

Published 11:15 am Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Courtland woman pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud, while her husband was acquitted of all charges on Thursday afternoon in the U.S. Eastern District Court, Norfolk Division.

Marian Lewis, who was a former employee at the Village at Wood’s Edge, a retirement community in Franklin, was on trial with her husband, Michael, a deputy for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of their arrest on the morning of May 21, they were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in addition to the five other charges. The money taken from the Village has been figured at $177,227, which was used in purchases for goods and services.

At the time of the arrest, the newspaper reported that the fraud was alleged to have been ongoing from at least Nov. 27, 2009, to Feb. 26, 2014. When authorities at the Village became suspicious of wrongdoing, the matter was turned over to investigators. U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Yusi of the aforementioned court filed an indictment on the six counts on the afternoon of May 20.

Yusi’s office was contacted for confirmation and comment on the case. Though she did not directly reply to the request, the court did send a brief transcription of what occurred on Thursday.

Chief District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith presided over the jury trial, which began on Tuesday.

“Out of the presence of the jury, defendant Marian Lewis made an oral motion for judgment of acquittal on all counts.

“For the reasons stated on the record, the court grants the motion as to Count 1, and overrules the motion as to Counts 2-6 as to Marian Lewis.

“Out of the presence of the jury, defendant Michael Lewis made an oral motion for judgment of acquittal on all counts. For the reasons stated on the record, the court grants the motion on all counts as to Michael Lewis.

“Counsel for defendant Marian Lewis advised the court that the defendant wished to enter plea of guilty to Counts 2-6. Following the plea of guilty hearing, the court excused the jurors. Defendant Marian Lewis continued on bond.”

Drew Page of Randall | Page was Marian Lewis’ defense attorney. He confirmed that the conspiracy charge against the couple was dismissed.

His client, “wanted to accept responsibility. But the insistence of trying to implicate her husband is what prevented her,” Page said, adding that a plea agreement was reached.

Asked why the charges were labeled mail fraud and not embezzlement, he explained that the main difference is the former uses the U.S. postal system.

“Since she was bookkeeper, she was mailing payments for some of the fraudulent purchases,” Page said. “Embezzlement without use of the postal system would have been a state court issue.”

Sentencing is scheduled to occur before the judge on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, he said, Marian Lewis is free on bond. She has to make all court appearances, cooperate with probation and commit no further crimes.

Page added that all charges against Michael Lewis were dropped because there was not enough evidence: “The government had to show there was an agreement — a meeting of the minds — or show willful blindness.”

Defending Michael Lewis were federal public defenders Keith Kimball and Andrew Grindrod, the latter of whom explained that “professional rules of responsibility require each defendant have separate counsel.”

Grindrod also said, “The judge entered a judgment of acquittal against Mr. Lewis, so he was acquitted of all charges.”

In an excerpt from a copy of the decision that the attorney forwarded to the paper, Judge Beach wrote, “Because of the insufficiency of the evidence, and for the reasons stated from the bench, the court GRANTS the motion and ORDERS entry of judgment of acquittal of the offenses charged in Counts One through Six of the Indictment. The Defendant is hereby acquitted and discharged, and any bond is exonerated as to the above counts.”

When Michael Lewis was arrested, he was suspended without pay.

“It will be up to the sheriff whether they’ll have him back,” Grindrod said.

Maj. Gene Drewery, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said that Sheriff Stutts was out on Friday, so he could not yet say if Lewis would return.

There to observe the proceedings was Village resident Asa Johnson.

“I was there strictly as a spectator,” he said. “As chairman of the board of the Village, I had a real interest in the outcome of this thing.

“The verdict was just … She was clearly guilty, and she admitted as much. She bought a lot of personal items — TVs, table saws, remodeled a bathroom — a whole litany of things they did with the money.”

Johnson noted that during the trial, the judge was “adamant they [the prosecutors] had not made a case in that one charge against him [Michael Lewis]. The jury seemed to be attentive, but I could not get a read on them.”

One of the people who testified at the trial was, of course, Village Executive Director Rhonda Stewart.

On Friday morning she said, “The Village was notified yesterday that former employee Marian Lewis has plead guilty to all five counts of mail fraud related to employee theft.

“The Village is relieved this matter has been resolved and is in the past. We are appreciative of the work of the U.S. attorney’s office, state police and Secret Service.”