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Posted at 06:43 PM ET, 06/03/2011

Judge cuts Linda Tribby a break, imposes lighter sentence


U.S. District Court Judge Liam O'Grady. Felt that eight to 10 years in prison for stealing $14 million was too harsh. But six years, the defense recommendation, was too little. Seven years — just right. (Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice)
Though federal sentencing guidelines recommended a prison sentence of eight to 10 years for Linda Speaks Tribby, the Loudoun County banker who admitted stealing more than $14 million from her customers, a federal judge said Friday that that was too much and imposed a seven-year term.

Tribby, 42, had sent a 14-page handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady outlining her history of civic involvement and the personal reasons why she decided to start diverting funds from four wealthy customers into her own accounts in 2003. She acknowledged being a heavy drinker, a regular marijuana smoker and a compulsive gambler, as she spent the stolen millions on houses, real estate, luxury and antique vehicles, and trips to Las Vegas.

And though she is married and proclaims herself a devout Christian, Tribby again declared her devotion to boyfriend Scott Whitmore, whom she described as her fiancee in court Friday, and said she hoped to have a child with Whitmore when she emerged from prison.

Tribby worked at Wachovia Bank, and its predecessors, in Purcellville for 25 years. She said in her letter that numerous family members began to suffer from cancer and other serious afflictions beginning in 2001, leading her to the brink of bankruptcy. Wachovia told her she could not declare bankruptcy and still work at the bank. So she came up with another plan.

Tribby targeted four customers and told them she could place their money in “wealth management accounts” that would pay tax-free interest. Tribby’s lawyers said 96 percent of the stolen money came from one customer. Tribby’s letter singled out one of her victims for particular apology, and said she was Tribby’s “prayer partner.”

None of Tribby’s victims was present in court for her sentencing.

Tribby said the money she began embezzling from her clients helped pay for life-saving cancer treatment for her grandfather. But then she want further.

She bought a house in West Virginia for her daughter, who attends college there. She bought land in New York and Arizona. She bought a helicopter and numerous vehicles. She bought Redskins season tickets. She treated herself and her family to trips to Las Vegas and other gambling outings. She purchased exotic animals, such as zebras, peacocks, emus and others, for her family farm in Lovettsville.

Meanwhile, she was creating phony financial statements for her victims, sometimes even sending them interest payments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jasmine Yoon said, while making at least 35 withdrawals from their true accounts. Wachovia, now Wells Fargo, eventually noticed and tipped authorities. Wells Fargo has repaid the victims, defense attorneys said.

Tribby was arrested in January as she and Whitmore returned from a trip to Arizona and Las Vegas. She had $30,000 cash in her carry-on bag. Authorities seized her assets and found $5.7 million in her accounts, and Yoon said Tribby attempted to transfer $50,000 to her mother from an unfrozen account while Tribby was in jail.

Tribby’s attorneys argued that the federal sentencing guideline range of 97 to 121 months was too harsh, and that the numbers for white-collar fraud had been unfairly ratcheted up by Congress in recent years. They asked O’Grady for a term of 70 months.

“I stand before you today, your honor,” a tearful Tribby said, “with deep regrets and serious apologies to my victims for breaking God’s commanded law. I pray today He speaks to your heart not just about my crime.

“I truly believed I was doing it for all the right reasons,” she said, but “I allowed my addictions to cloud my mind. I accept full responsibility.” She agreed with her attorneys’ analysis that the sentence for a financial crime was too high, and implored the judge, “Please show me today that you know the value of human life is more important than money. . . . I beg for your mercy and understanding.”

O’Grady said, “I give you full credit for the reason why you were motivated to begin stealing from your clients.” But he noted that she had a salary of $100,000 at Wachovia, and “instead of ending this at some stage . . . you chose to obtain actual things for yourself.”

The judge also noted that Tribby appeared to be preparing for her arrest, but instead of returning her purloined millions, she wrote $1.8 million in checks to pay future bills and mortgages.

Turning to the sentence, O’Grady said he was “looking at what you did before the crime, which is significant,” including heading her daughter’s parent-teacher organization at school and other civic activities. “I give you credit for your motivation. . . . A lengthy period of incarceration is necessary.”

The judge then said, “I don’t think a guidelines sentence is necessary.” He departed from the guidelines with a sentence of 84 months, and ordered her to make full restitution of $14,169,878 to Wells Fargo. He imposed no fine. And he recommended to the federal Bureau of Prisons that she be housed in the women’s prison in West Virginia so she could be close to her family.

With time off for good behavior, she will be eligible for release in about six years.

By  |  06:43 PM ET, 06/03/2011

 
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