ELLSWORTH – A local woman who pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a prominent Ellsworth businessman was sentenced Wednesday to serve 30 months in prison and ordered to pay half a million dollars in restitution.
Julie Watson, who is estimated to have embezzled between $400,000 and $750,000 from Charles Katsiaficas, received an overall sentence of eight years with all but 21/2 years of that sentence suspended.
Justice Andrew Mead, presiding Wednesday in Hancock County Superior Court, also ordered Watson to pay $500,000 in restitution and to serve a probation term of four years.
Watson, 37, was accused of embezzling the money from Katsiaficas, 77, during the 15 or so years she worked for him managing the Eagles Lodge Motel, Ellsworth Self Storage and a now-defunct travel agency. Watson, who handled the books for the businesses, pleaded guilty in January to charges of theft and misuse of identification, and to an unrelated charge of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Watson lavishly spent the embezzled money on material possessions for herself while the motel struggled in the summer of 2001 to pay its bills and make payroll, Hancock County District Attorney Michael Povich said at Wednesday’s sentencing.
Katsiaficas was at the sentencing, sitting in the front row of the spectators’ gallery, but didn’t address the court.
According to Kiki Sawyer, one of Katsiaficas’ daughters, Watson laid the blame for the businesses’ mounting financial instability on Katsiaficas, a former teacher, by accusing him of making too many trips to Wal-Mart and putting too much gasoline in his 14-year-old pickup truck.
Watson kept the business records locked in the trunk of her car to prevent anyone else from going through them, the daughter said.
“She spent [the money] on frivolous things while watching my parents struggle to make ends meet,” Sawyer told Mead.
While she blamed Katsiaficas, Watson was using the purloined funds to frequently rent limousines to go out on the town and to buy all-terrain vehicles, a $2,000 front door and an $800 porcelain sink for her house, trips to Mexico, Gucci handbags, a Gucci watch, and a bridal gown and tuxedo for Watson’s now-canceled wedding, according to Sawyer.
Charles Katsiaficas, whose parents emigrated from Greece to America without being able to speak English, worked hard for four decades to build up his businesses, Sawyer said.
Among the other items Watson was accused of buying with the embezzled money were a Rolex watch, jewelry, clothing, granite countertops for her home and a trip to Georgia, according to Povich and court documents.
Watson addressed the court and apologized for taking the money.
“I truly loved Charlie,” Watson said, reading from a prepared statement that shook slightly in her hands as she spoke. “I still do and I always will.”
Watson, who showed no outward display of emotion during the proceeding, said she deserved to go to jail for what she did.
“I am so very sorry,” she said.
Lillian Katsiaficas, Charles Katsiaficas’ wife, and Mary Katsiaficas Libby, another of his daughters, also addressed the court Wednesday. Each said that Watson does not feel remorse for what she did.
“Our finances are in shambles … We’ll not live long enough to be repaid, and she’ll not live long enough to repay it,” Lillian Katsiaficas said.
The only comparable case Povich said he could recall in his prosecutorial district, which includes Washington County, was when bookkeeper Harriet Webb pleaded guilty in 1996 to embezzling $341,000 from SAD 77 in East Machias, Cutler, Whiting and Machiasport.
Webb was sentenced to serve seven years in prison out of an overall 10-year sentence, Povich told Mead.
On Wednesday, Watson’s mother, her sister and two co-workers, as identified by Watson’s attorney, Daniel Pileggi of Ellsworth, were at the sentencing to support the defendant.
Watson hugged them over a courtroom railing after the proceeding and wept before being led off to prison. The women who hugged Watson declined comment after the sentencing.
Pileggi had recommended to Mead that Watson receive a maximum overall sentence of four years, serve eight months in jail, and be ordered to pay a maximum restitution of $351,000.
The facts that Watson is a mother to two young children, that she confessed and started repaying the Katsiaficas family before police began investigating the crime, and that she has been a model employee in her new job warranted a lesser sentence, Pileggi told Mead.
Povich had recommended that Watson should receive an overall sentence of 10 years, with a jail term of three years and required restitution of $750,000.
“We send people to jail for this amount of time for stealing far less,” Povich told the judge.
Each attorney said separately after the proceeding that the sentence imposed by Mead was not unexpected.
Steve Joy, a son-in-law of Charles Katsiaficas who spoke on behalf of the family after the sentencing, said there is still between $200,000 and $230,000 in outstanding debt on his father-in-law’s credit cards. Watson racked up $120,000 in debt on one card alone, he said.
“He sold $850,000 worth of real estate to help pay for this,” Joy said of Katsiaficas. “It was like [his] child had done this to him. It was a horrible thing.”
Povich said after the sentencing that with Watson’s conviction, it is hoped the credit card companies will be more understanding of Katsiaficas’ debt.
“He has no credit rating,” the prosecutor said. “He cannot get a loan. He cannot get a damn thing.”
Watson’s embezzlement came to police attention in December 2001 after the Ellsworth Police Department received a complaint from the Katsiaficas family that a local police officer she had been dating may have benefited from Watson’s activities.