Charity wary of Thompson sentencing delay

The sentencing of confessed United Way of Santa Rosa County (UWSRC) embezzler Guy Thompson is being delayed into January, sparking concerns that his attorney is negotiating leniency.

“We want to see justice done,” said Melissa Stuckey, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Santa Rosa County, in a phone interview.

Stuckey said that she is among several charity groups’ leaders who have written to U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers about the seriousness of the crimes to which Thompson confessed in open court in May.

Stuckey’s organization is one of more than a dozen that were United Way funding recipients before the federal fraud investigation led to the firing of Thompson from the charity he had financially run. United Way documents and interviews with some of the 27 volunteer directors, who were supposed to oversee the now-defunct UWSRC, indicate they were clueless as Thompson hired friends and family members while doling out raises to them and himself even as donations plummeted.

Thompson’s hold on the United Way’s purse strings seemed to go essentially unquestioned as he capitalized on his status in Milton, where he was a city councilman from 1978 to 1994 and mayor from 1994 to 2014.

Thompson could face a lengthy prison term. Each count of the charges carries a maximum term of 20 years. The federal prosecutor’s office for the Northern District of Florida declined to comment ahead of the sentencing hearing.

Although Thompson pleaded guilty to looting the charity of more than $600,000 without any promises about the sentencing terms, his attorney—Ryan Cardoso of Pensacola—has already obtained two delays of the sentencing that was originally scheduled for July.

According to court documents, Cardoso has asked for the postponements so that Thompson can undergo an examination of his “physical and mental health.” That could set the legal stage for a reduced sentence based on the possible claim that Thompson wasn’t of sound mind when he embezzled.

Cardoso declined to comment to a reporter on whether he had asked for a third delay of the sentencing, now set for Jan. 17.

“The filing and order regarding this delay have been sealed by the court,” Cardoso said.

A law clerk for Judge Rodgers confirmed the rescheduling but said she could not disclose any information about the circumstances.

Such maneuvering by defense attorneys is not uncommon and it has not stopped federal authorities from seizing about $221,000 in bank accounts held by Thompson. U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe has also signaled his intention to obtain restitution of another $430,000 from Thompson, some of it by confiscating and selling property.

Meanwhile, Thompson remains free without posting bond since prosecutors do not view him as a flight risk.

But Stuckey sees the delay as justice being denied to his victims.

“He hurt the people of Santa Rosa County who need help the most: disadvantaged families and children,” Stuckey said.

In the scandal’s wake, the Milton-based United Way has been disbanded and many of the organization’s responsibilities have been taken on by the Pensacola-based United Way of West Florida.

Stuckey said the change is working reasonably well, although the Pensacola group is much more stringent about requirements to receive aid. Also, she said, her organization is not receiving as much funding as it once did from the Thompson-run United Way.

Indeed, Stuckey said that before UWSRC collapsed, it was funding the Santa Rosa Early Learning Coalition with about $20,000 a year, which has now been roughly cut in half.

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