Letters Show Different Side of Lee Farkas

Bloomberg News
Lee Farkas

“A tremendous asset to the community.” “A great source of inspiration and love.” “Courteous, truthful and contrite.” Someone “who seems always to put himself last.”

These words will be part of the long record that U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema will review when sentencing former Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. chairman Lee Farkas Thursday in Alexandria, Va.

Federal prosecutors are seeking the statutory maximum sentence of 385 years for Farkas, whom a jury in April found guilty of all 14 counts of conspiracy and bank, wire and securities fraud in connection with his orchestration of a scheme to defraud banks and the government out of billions of dollars. The scheme led to the bankruptcies of both Florida-based Taylor Bean and a large regional banking company. Through his attorneys, Farkas, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, is seeking just 15 years, well short of the 50-year minimum sentence to which prosecutors said they’d concede.

While prosecutors filed papers decrying Farkas’s “lifestyle of ostentatious wealth,” his “little to no regard” for the thousands of employees who lost their jobs when the fraud imploded and his continued refusal to deny responsibility, Farkas’s attorneys were busy gathering up their own ammunition. That ammo comes in the form of nearly 60 letters heralding Farkas’s selfless and generosity.

According to white collar criminal defense attorney Latour “LT” Lafferty, who’s not involved in the case, a judge has a duty to consider the defendant’s history and personal characteristics when imposing a sentence.

“Definitely one of the best ways to present that history and characteristics of that person to the court is through these character letters,” said Lafferty, a shareholder in Florida law firm Fowler White Boggs and a former federal prosecutor. He said the best letters show why the defendant isn’t “a common perpetrator.”

That’s no doubt what Farkas’s attorneys had in mind when they filed letters from the likes of Gerald K. Ergle, the former mayor of Ocala, Fla., where Taylor Bean was based. Ergle called Farkas a “tremendous asset to our community” thanks to his sponsorship of such holiday events as ice skating and symphony performances, not to mention his efforts to revitalize the city by buying vacant buildings and transforming them into functioning businesses.

Or take Susan E. King, who said Farkas offered up his private plane to enable her friend to bring her baby for cancer treatment at New York’s prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Former Taylor Bean office-supply assistant Dina Parker described a boss who would join his colleagues in the cafeteria, tell them their work was appreciated and help them solve whatever problems they faced. Parker later took a job as Farkas’s personal housekeeper in 2007 and said she saw him treat his employees with “respect and dignity,” even serving her coffee when she reported for work in the mornings.

Farkas’s only sibling, Terri Huber, recalled how her older brother took care of her when they lost their parents at a young age and when she gave her birth to her first child. That child, Rachael Johnson, said as a young girl, she’d answer “the moon” when her uncle asked her what she wanted for a present. “He wasn’t ever able to get me the moon but he did manage to do some amazing things for me along the way,” she said, citing a convertible, college education, down payment on a home and her “dream wedding.”

Another letter took issue with the government’s portrayal of Farkas as a slick mastermind who manipulated people to do his bidding, including participate in the fraud. According to writer Alan Briggs, Farkas instead was the one who was drawn to needy people who took advantage of his trust and generosity.

“I’ve come to know that Lee is a modest man who embraces the little things in life more than the wealth. The people he surrounded himself with were not modest and wanted the material trappings. [Yet] when Lee was going through his trial, none of his long-time friends or former partners, who he supported, encouraged and enabled for years, bothered to come to the trial or to even ask about him,” Briggs wrote.

Friend David Galvan mentioned the GPS ankle device Farkas was ordered to wear as he awaited trial from his home. When strangers asked about the “ever-present and very conspicuous” device, Galvan said Farkas would freely explain why he was wearing it.

“These are the actions of a responsible man,” Galvan wrote, adding that the burden was made bearable “by the strong conviction of his innocence.”