Ex-Summit Association of Realtors CEO sentenced to 5 years for embezzlement
Summit County resident Sue Frank was sentenced to five years of prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $415,000 from the Summit Association of Realtors.
“This is a crime I did commit. There are no words that can express how sorry and ashamed I am,” Frank said at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. “I would like to pay back the rest of the funds as soon as possible. I know it’s a lot, but I think I can do it.”
Frank, 62, who served as the nonprofit’s CEO for 18 years, was charged with class three felony theft after she used former SAR Board of Directors Chair Andrew Biggin’s signature to forge checks and transfer money into her personal bank account.
“Ms. Frank was in a position of trust. It was a long-standing trust, not without some prior difficulties, but a position of trust with full and unfettered access,” said Fifth Judicial District Judge Mark Thompson. “These were deliberate and not impulsive crimes … Property crime does not mean victimless crime. This is an extraordinarily large amount of money.”
Court documents show that Frank deposited three checks of $58,000, $78,000 and $96,000 into her FirstBank Breckenridge account in November 2014, listed as short-term loans, which the Association does not make. Biggin later discovered she used his forged signature to deposit more than $183,000 in checks on June 17, July 25, Aug. 11 and Oct. 29.
Frank bonded out after she was first arrested by the Dillon Police Department on Dec. 2, 2014. She was arrested again with a $250,000 bond when investigators discovered that she had taken steps to prevent the recovery of the stolen money. Prosecutors say Frank had wired sums to several countries, including a bank in Ghana where she pushed to continue a $200,000 transaction.
“Frank refused to cooperate with authorities and now these funds are irretrievable,” said current SAR Board of Directors Chair Dennis Clauer. “Her calculated, premeditated ongoing efforts resulting in the loss of $400,000 have created dire consequences for our organization and the Summit County community.”
Having been incarcerated for nearly five months, Frank’s current jail time will count toward her five-year sentencing.
A Plea for Probation
Despite the large outcry from SAR members, a few supported a lighter sentence for Frank, as defense attorney Dorothea Reiff pushed for an extended probationary period in which Frank could pay off her debts instead of serving jail time.
“It’s not an everyday kind of case as is evident from participation not only from the real estate community but people in support of Ms. Frank as well,” Judge Thompson said.
Reiff argued that if Frank were put on probation instead of going to prison, she could sell her Mesa Cortina home, valued at $563,229, to make $100,000 to $150,000 in equity as restitution to SAR. Frank has not been able to make payments on the house since she was arrested, and faces foreclosure as her daughter, the current resident, is on unemployment after being laid off from SAR after the incident.
“As far as I know, I believe Sue had a true mental and emotional breakdown,” said Timothy Fettig, a close friend of Frank. “She does still care, and wants to make an honest attempt at restitution. She’s lost everything.”
Reiff argued that Frank made the transactions as the result of a mental crisis brought on by several personal struggles during that time. Frank met what appeared to be two men online, claiming to be millionaires, and sent them both her own personal retirement funds and SAR funds under the belief that the money would be returned to her.
“The two men I met had me convinced that they would return the money I lent them, and that they truly loved me,” Frank said. “My mistake was that I did not confide to anyone what I was dealing with.”
Reiff added that Frank kept a record of all of the stolen funds, and tried to pay some of it back. But Deputy District Attorney John Franks argued that she anticipated a $6 million deal with these men related to the stolen funds.
“The reality is, she took money that wasn’t hers approaching half a million dollars,” Franks said. “She made a very good salary. She knew the inside working of this company and used that systematic knowledge to loot them.”
Current and past SAR board members expressed a range of opinions regarding Frank’s sentencing. Many pushed for more jail time, but others stood in defense of Frank based on past experiences.
“Sue Frank is a good person who did very bad things,” said Bruce Mitchell, former SAR Board vice president, pushing for a lighter sentence than that requested by Clauer. “As far as I know prior to the crimes of which she was convicted, she was exemplary in her conduct.”
Former SAR Board President Bonnie Smith later stood to counter the suggestion that Frank should merely receive eight to 10 years of probation.
“This has had much wider repercussions that just the local association,” Smith said. “We are a family in the Realtor association. Several years ago, 10 past presidents from around the state came together to defend Frank. But this violation of trust after sent the community in shockwaves.”
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