News Column

No jail for Severn condo president who stole $70,000

July 10, 2014

By Brandi Bottalico, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

July 10--The former president of a Severn condominium association was sentenced Thursday to community service after admitting she stole more than $70,000 from the group for restaurants, hair salons and phone bills.

Circuit Court Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch sentenced Wanda Brooks to five years of probation, and ordered her to pay restitution in monthly $25 payments as well as serve 100 hours of community service.

Brooks pleaded guilty to a single county of felony theft in an agreement with prosecutors that avoided jail time and dropped an embezzlement charge. She faced as much as 15 years in prison.

"All I can say is it's an embarrassment," Brooks told the judge during the hearing in Annapolis. "I made some bad choices, a lot of mistakes and I'm sorry."

Brooks pleaded guilty to charging $73,943 on a Still Meadows Condominium Association credit card between August 2002 and July 2009 while she was president of the association. Charges were made at restaurants including Red Lobster, Outback Steakhouse, Damons Grill and a restaurant in Indiana.

She also charged visits to hair salons, phone services, gas station purchases and an electric bill payment from an address in North Carolina, according to a statement of charges presented by prosecutors.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Cogan said Brooks owned property in North Carolina, citing several other charges in the state.

"We saw no repayments to the account," he said. "These transactions were not in the best interest of the homeowner's association."

Despite the charges, Cogan encouraged Jaklitsch to sentence Brooks to community service, citing poverty and illness.

Her primary income is a $720 monthly disability check. She suffers from degenerative disk disease, Type 2 diabetes, hyperthyroidism, sleep apnea and depression, said County Councilman Daryl Jones, Brooks' attorney.

Jones, whose district includes the Still Meadows condos, said he has known her for years and told the judge she remains an asset to the community who is still held in high esteem by her neighbors.

"When she finds herself now, your honor, trying to explain what happened she is without words," Jones said. "She has never felt as deeply troubled as she does now."

No one from the association spoke during the hearing.

Brooks left the courtroom using a four-wheeled walker for support, surrounded by her with family. Despite the plea, she said the restaurant charges were for association business and that details of some of the charges were wrong.

"I've never been to Indiana in my life," she said. "I don't have property in North Carolina."

She chose to plead guilty because a trial would have postponed planned back surgery.

"I'm not going to put myself through that," she said.

Jessica Langley served on the condo board right after Brooks. She said Brooks left behind unpaid bills and a neglected complex when her tenure ended.

Volunteer members of the board not only help maintain the grounds but spent time building a case against Brooks, said Langley, who has since moved from the community.

She said the money taken from the association was generated by monthly condo fees ranging from $100 to $150.

"To actually recover fully (the association) needs another five years," Langley said.


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Source: Capital (Annapolis, MD)

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