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Longboat Key Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 7 years ago

Church shows mercy in St. Mary's case

by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor

Margaret Carroll faced up to 30 years in prison for a first-degree, grand-theft charge stemming from a series of thefts that took place between 2002 and 2007, when Carroll worked as an office assistant at St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church. But, in the end, church officials helped Carroll avoid a prison sentence, by asking for mercy on her behalf.

Carroll, 68, of Sarasota, received a sentence of five years of community control and 25 years of probation Wednesday, Feb. 17, from Manatee County Judge Gilbert Smith Jr., two-and-a-half months after she pleaded guilty to the charge. During the community-control period, Carroll will only be permitted to leave her home for work, church and medical appointments. She will pay $500 a month in restitution to the Diocese of Venice for the remainder of her probation period.

“During the sentencing, the attorney representative for the Diocese of Venice noted the cooperation on the part of Ms. Carroll and requested that she not be incarcerated,” said Bob Reddy, assistant communications director for the diocese.

Reddy said that the fact that Carroll was cooperative during the investigation was also a factor in the request.

According to her attorney, Derek Byrd, Carroll received a downward departure from the minimum sentence of 34-and-a-half months laid out by Florida sentencing guidelines, because the need for restitution outweighed the need for incarceration.

“The church showed a lot of mercy, based on the fact that she paid a lot of restitution and showed a lot of remorse,” Byrd said.

Byrd said that Carroll has paid a total of $380,000 in restitution to the diocese, approximately $355,000 of which was credited after Carroll and her husband, Roland, a retired Longboat Key firefighter/paramedic, signed over the deed of a Virginia property, which the couple bought before Carroll was employed by St. Mary’s. Prior to her sentencing, Carroll was making restitution payments of $1,000 a month.

According to Byrd, Carroll still has a balance of $240,000 to pay in restitution, because church auditors said that Carroll stole as much as $620,000. Byrd estimated that the amount was probably closer to $450,000, but determining the exact amount would have required combing through more than 10 years’ of receipts, many of which contained both personal and church purchases, “tooth and nail.”

Carroll was fired in August 2007 after 17 years of working for the church, when the Diocese of Venice found financial irregularities during a routine financial review of parishes. She was arrested July 25, 2008, and charged with first-degree grand theft of more than $100,000 and less than $500,000. According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office arrest report, Carroll spent $75,000 of the money at home-improvement stores. She also used the money to buy a new car and write more than $40,000 in checks to friends and relatives.

St. Mary parishioners contacted by The Longboat Observer, in March 2008 after allegations surfaced, said that Carroll had complete control of too many accounts and that the Rev. Edward Pick, who retired in May 2008, was too trusting of Carroll.

Byrd said that Carroll suffered from an extreme case of obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifested itself in the form of extreme hoarding. Much of the stolen money was spent accumulating knick-knacks and figurines.

“She would spend hours on QVC basically buying garbage,” Byrd said. “When she tried to recoup the money, she realized the stuff is basically worthless.”

Carroll is currently serving one year of probation on unrelated misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and assault stemming from a July 2009 incident (see box). Prior to the theft charges, Carroll had no criminal history.

Byrd said that Carroll has extreme remorse about stealing from the church.

“Her life is the church,” he said. “You can imagine, not only the guilt of stealing from an employer, but also, from the church.”


Unrelated charges
Two weeks before she was sentenced for grand theft, Margaret Carroll pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and assault, stemming from a July 2009 incident that occurred in the parking lot of a Sarasota Wal-Mart. According to a probable-cause affidavit filed by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, a 21-year-old woman told police that after an argument, Carroll backed up her vehicle and then drove the vehicle toward her multiple times in an attempt to strike her.

The woman, who was eight months pregnant at the time, said that Carroll threatened to punch her in the stomach. Carroll was originally charged with felony aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and misdemeanor reckless driving. The charges were reduced to misdemeanor assault and reckless driving.

Carroll received two consecutive six-month probation terms. She was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service and a 16-hour anger management course and to have no contact with the victim.

Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].


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