Woman gets 2 years in prison for fraud

She stole almost $200,000 from head, neck society

October 08, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

At times yesterday, Bridget Wallace seemed remorseful for embezzling nearly $200,000 from the American Head and Neck Society and betraying the trust of her supervisor, Dr. Wayne Koch.

"I'd like to apologize to Dr. Koch, No. 1," Wallace said through tears in Baltimore Circuit Court before being sentenced. "It was very wrong. God knows it was just so wrong, and once I got into it, I just didn't know how to stop."

Other times, she made excuses.

"I have been a victim of financial difficulties since my father passed away over 24 years ago," said Wallace, 44, of the 500 block of Radnor Ave. in North Baltimore. "My family went through periods of having no gas and electricity, and no food."

Judge Thomas J.S. Waxter Jr. sentenced Wallace to two years in prison and five years of supervised probation.

"This is a serious case," Waxter said. "This is a large amount of money, over $195,000. There is no closer relationship, other than a marriage-type relationship, than that of employer and employee."

The American Head and Neck Society, where Wallace worked as a secretary, gives about $75,000 in research grants annually and sponsors educational events to promote the advancement of treatment in head and neck cancer.

Prosecutors say Wallace stole from the group by writing checks to herself drawn from its account, and using the organization's debit card to make purchases or ATM withdrawals.

Court records show Wallace purchased everything from airline tickets to meals at Chuck E. Cheese's and went on trips to Atlantic City, N.J., and Boca Raton, Fla.

The money she embezzled amounts to a year of the organization's operating budget and has curtailed its ability to make cancer research grants, Koch said in court yesterday.

Koch said the group didn't know at the time that Wallace was hired that she had nearly a dozen convictions for writing bad checks, forgery and theft. A background check didn't reveal her record because she "falsified her name spelling and Social Security number," he said.

But Koch, an ear, nose and throat physician who works at Johns Hopkins and is secretary of the American Head and Neck Society, said he was aware Wallace had financial problems when he hired her and allowed her to work a substantial amount of overtime to help.

"For me, personally, the impact is probably the greatest," Koch said. "She came to me as someone who cared about the patients I cared about, and that means a lot to me."

Wallace insisted she cared about the patients and never meant to swindle the group. "When I went to work at Johns Hopkins, I didn't go there masterminding anything," she said.

After she was sentenced, Wallace stood and was handcuffed. Before she was escorted from the courtroom, she embraced her husband and cried.

Wallace pleaded guilty in July. Yesterday, her attorney, Andrew C. White, asked Waxter to sentence her to home detention, not incarceration.

"She deserves to be punished, and she knows that," White said. "Punish her in a way that she can maintain what society values -- family, a place to live and one's health."

White said Wallace suffers from kidney cancer and other ailments for which she is under the care of many doctors. He also said that if she was placed on home detention, she could keep working the job she has held since March and repay some of the money.

Yesterday, she repaid $2,000.

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