Nov 2012 – OCALA, FL – A woman who stole $400,000 from her employer has been sentenced to two years in prison and will be forced to pay back the entire sum, a judge ruled Thursday.

JUDGE decided probation was not enough

After listening to both the state and defense come to an agreement that defendant Kathryn Swearingen, 50, should pay restitution in lieu of incarceration time because that could defer her restitution payment, Circuit Judge Steven Rogers decided probation was not enough and imposed a prison term.

Swearingen worked for orthodontist Dr. Robert Ford for 22 years, and also was a personal friend who lived three doors down from the home he shared with his family.

In August 2012, Ford and his accountant met with Ocala police after the doctor received a notice from the Internal Revenue Service stating he had not paid them enough money in payroll taxes. The doctor and accountant began investigating and realized Swearingen, the former office manager, who completed the payroll checks, had been receiving multiple paychecks for various amounts.

She was prosecuted for stealing money from 2009 through 2012, the year she resigned. She spent less than five hours in the Marion County Jail before bonding out.

Rogers, who was filling in for Circuit Judge Hale Stancil, told both sides he had a hard time swallowing a sentence of just probation.

“People are being arrested today that will spend months in the Marion County Jail for taking less than that,” Rogers said.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson acknowledged the court’s dilemma, where stealing that much money is punishable by up to 30 years in prison but would delay payments to a victim who has suffered a great deal already.

In the end, Rogers adjudicated Swearingen guilty and imposed a 10-year probation sentence, with two of those years to be spent in the department of corrections.

As restitution, Ford will take ownership of Swearingen’s home on Lake Weir, which is valued at $590,000, with $270,000 in a first and second mortgage, that will be deducted from the price. Swearingen has already paid back $10,000, and the remaining $70,000 will be paid back by selling off personal belongings, such as jet skis.

Rogers told defense attorney James Reich that if the money is paid back, he will consider a defense motion to mitigate the incarceration time.

Ford told the judge that by the time he learned what happened, he owed $184,000 in fines, taxes and penalties because Swearingen didn’t show him the previous notices alerting him to the problem. By the time he did see a notice, the IRS was threatening to seize his business.

“That means armed federal agents would come into my practice, take everything in there and shut me down,” Ford told Rogers during the sentencing hearing.

Swearingen pleaded no contest to grand theft in September, but her sentencing had been delayed.

Accompanying Ford at Thursday’s proceedings were several supporters and current employees.

Ford detailed for the court how the ordeal has affected his employees, family and finances, including family college funds and charitable donations. He said he and his staff members are still feeling the effects. Still, he told the judge, he has not raised his patient fees.

“I’ve never been under more stress in my life than I have in the last two years,” said Ford, a Vietnam War veteran.

In a written letter of apology to Ford, Swearingen said she took the money to pay bills and take care of her kids.


“I’m very sorry about what the practice has been through and what the employees have been through,” Swearingen told the judge.

She said she intends to pay back all the restitution, and acknowledged there is no amount of apology that could make things right.

“If I had to do it over again, I wish I could take it back,” she said.

When asked by Rogers, Swearingen said she made between $48,000 and $50,000 annually while working for Ford. She said her husband made $80,000.

When Rogers asked where the money went, Swearingen said for bills and tuition.

“He did not deserve what I did to him,” she said. “He did nothing wrong to me at all. We were friends and I let him down, and I did this to him, he did nothing to me.”

Reich said his client is not a monster, despite what some have said about her, and told the judge he isn’t sure what was going on in her mind.

Source on File