Coleman gets three years

Ex-stockbroker sentenced for securities fraud, misappropriation of funds

Term `puts down a strong signal'

In tearful testimony, she denies any wrongdoing

September 12, 2002|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

After a sobbing and rambling courtroom defense of herself - in which she never apologized - defrocked stockbroker Monica L. Coleman was sentenced yesterday to 15 years in state prison, with all but three suspended.

After Coleman's sentencing on a securities fraud and misappropriation of funds conviction, the former financial adviser was handcuffed and readied for her trip to state prison.

"Maybe now she's going to feel the pain we're used to [feeling]," said Mary Barringer, a retiree who saw her $103,000 nest egg disappear while Coleman was her stockbroker.

In her statement to the court yesterday, Coleman said that while she opened the plush brokerage house with great fanfare, and boasted of its prospects, it was the start of a "nightmare" and a run of bad luck in which everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

During her five-minute speech, Coleman repeatedly said she never set out to hurt anyone and denied committing fraud.

Coleman sobbed while responding to Jean Aziz, who, along with her husband, lost the entire $765,000 they invested with the firm.

Earlier, Aziz had called the venture a "Ponzi scheme," and said that Coleman befriended her and her family only to get their money.

"She has no idea," Coleman said. "I loved her. ... Jean was like my sister. I talked about bringing her into the business. I had a business plan that said I would make $26 million," and wanted to share that with her.

In April, Coleman agreed to plead guilty to five counts of securities fraud and one count of misappropriation by a fiduciary.

In return, the Maryland attorney general's office agreed to recommend the 15-year prison term, of which Coleman would have to serve only three years.

And while the sentence could not be increased, Coleman's attorneys were permitted to seek a lower sentence.

After a hearing that lasted nearly two hours, however, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown rejected the arguments made by defense attorney Robert H. Waldman, who detailed Coleman's early life growing up in the Brooklyn Park area as the daughter of two working parents, and noted how goal-driven she was - attaining her law degree, getting a job at Legg Mason Inc. and working herself into a position as a respected money manager.

Waldman said Coleman was desperate to save her business, and that none of the money was used to live a lavish lifestyle. She believed if she could save the business, she could save her clients, too, he said.

`Into the business'

"No statements have been made that money went into Mrs. Coleman's personal accounts," Waldman said. "The money we're talking about went into the business."

However, Assistant Maryland Attorney General Eileen McInerney asserted that Coleman was getting off easily in light of the backlash from such scandals as Enron Corp.

Had Coleman's infractions happened more recently, McInerney asserted, the stockbroker might well have found herself in a much worse situation.

The judge agreed, and told Coleman so.

"It is a different time now," Brown said. "Had this case come later, your sentence would be an awful lot bigger than it is today."

During the hearing, McInerney and Brown asked pointed questions about Coleman's earlier claims that she was employed.

As part of the plea agreement, McInerney said, the attorney general's office established a series of milestones Coleman was supposed to meet - which would factor into the final sentence she received.

McInerney said the company that Coleman claimed employment with said that she didn't work for them.

In her statement, Coleman said that revelations about her guilty plea ultimately led to her dismissal. The top officers held a meeting to review her situation, but said she could not attend. But then Coleman said that they used the fact that she missed the meeting as grounds for dismissal.

Coleman later asked Brown to keep her out of jail so that she could make restitution to those who lost money.

"Please, please help me make this right," she said. "All I want to do is to make this right."

Curran satisfied

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said yesterday that he was satisfied with Coleman's sentence.

Curran said his office argued for a sentence that they thought the judge would agree to.

"I just wanted to make sure we had the ability to make a recommendation that was going to stick," he said. "Three years at a minimum puts down a strong signal. We decided on a number that we thought was going to send a message and be a warning to people: For abuse of trust, we are going to ask for jail sentences."

Waldman asked Brown to allow Coleman to begin her jail term Monday, but the judge rejected the request.

The attorney said it's likely they will ask for a sentence review.

February 1998

Coleman's demise started when she and a partner founded Coleman Craten LLC in February 1998.

Coleman Craten was like a combination private club and brokerage office of the 1920s, where the wealthy would come to socialize, share stock tips and watch the ticker. Coleman's office included billiard tables, a research library and doormen dressed in tuxedos. But the wealthy never flocked to Coleman Craten, and authorities said Coleman appropriated money from some clients and persuaded others to invest.

"I was in over my head," Coleman said.

In a settlement announced in December, about 20 former Coleman Craten clients were to get back as much as half of their money lost through investments made with Coleman's firm.

That is more than investors have typically been getting after being victimized in financial scandals of recent vintage.

Sun staff writer Bill Atkinson contributed to this article.

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