Victim was elderly client of Asheville law firm
The wife of a Buncombe County district court judge was sentenced on Monday to four months in prison for stealing more than $102,000 from an elderly client of an Asheville law firm.
Susanne Marie Crotty, 44, of Arden, pleaded guilty in Buncombe County Superior Court to embezzlement, financial card fraud, obtaining property by false pretense, and writing and using forged checks.
Judge Alan Z. Thornburg sentenced Crotty, the wife of Buncombe County District Court Judge Edwin D. Clontz, to two consecutive 60-day prison sentences followed by four years of supervised probation.
The stolen funds were the property of Ernestine P. Demaree, an elderly client of The Van Winkle Law Firm, for whom Crotty worked for about six years as a legal assistant at The Van Winkle Law Firm. The firm managed Demaree’s assets. According to court records, she used the money to, among other things, buy groceries, meals, pet supplies, clothing, shoes, spa and beauty salon services, lodging, Internet services, gasoline, amusement park tickets, concert tickets and to pay for insurance and utilities.
Thornburg also ordered Crotty to pay $26,460 in restitution to The Van Winkle Firm, which included more than $15,000 in costs the firm incurred related to investigating Crotty. She also must pay $10,000 for a car she agreed to buy from Demaree but never made payments on.
Crotty doesn’t have to repay the full amount because The Van Winkle Law Firm replenished the funds by filing claims with its insurance carriers. Assistant District Attorney Frank C. Patton III said Crotty “in some ways received a significant break” by this.
Crotty’s attorney, Jack W. Stewart Jr., said at the hearing that Crotty separated from The Van Winkle Law Firm on Feb. 28 after they discovered she had been taking their client’s funds. The Van Winkle Law Firm reported to the Asheville Police Department on March 18 that Crotty had embezzled money from the business, according to the incident/investigation report. She was arrested April 21, and a grand jury indicted her on 161 felony counts June 9, according to court documents.
Later, on Sept. 9, Crotty married Clontz, a 47-year-old district court judge in Buncombe County, according to their marriage license filed with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds.
Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Clontz to the bench in April to fill a vacancy created when Judge Sharon Barrett was appointed as a Special Superior Court Judge.
Speaking on behalf of his law firm during Monday’s hearing, Van Winkle attorney Stephen J. Grabenstein said his firm considered Crotty’s actions to be “very serious” and that it had been a “difficult time to work through.”
Grabenstein said the law firm was satisfied with the district attorney’s office’s handling of the case. Neither Demaree nor anyone from her family made a statement during the hearing.
Crotty’s attorney called several character witnesses, including Sara DeLeon. DeLeon said she’d been Crotty’s friend for three years. She said they met when her son played football with Crotty’s late son, Donnie. DeLeon, who works in the senior services division of Mission Hospitals, said she was at the hospital in June when Crotty’s son was brought in by ambulance after suffering injuries during an ATV accident at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, where Donnie played football and was a rising junior. As a result of those injuries, 15-year-old Donnie Crotty died July 21.
“She is my best friend,” DeLeon said of Susanne Marie Crotty. When Stewart asked what she thought of Crotty’s guilty plea, DeLeon said, “that’s not the person I know.” She went on to say that the loss of her son had been “devastating” to Crotty.
Michelle Maynor also testified on behalf of Crotty’s character. Maynor, who said she had worked as an office manager at T.C. Roberson and had known Crotty for 17 years, described Crotty as a “friendly, outgoing great mother — a middle-class single mom trying to do the best she can.”
Stewart also introduced a document into the court record showing Crotty had been seeing a mental health therapist since March. He said Crotty “suffered from compulsion,” which he said contributed to her stealing funds from The Van Winkle Law Firm’s client.
“I admit everything I did,” Crotty said during the hearing. “I do think that I have a compulsive problem. Although it appears I didn’t have Mrs. Demaree’s interests at heart, I always maintained a relationship with her and helped take care of her… I’m sorry for what I did.”
Assistant District Attorney Patton said the state acknowledged the tragedy of Crotty’s son’s death but emphasized that all of her criminal activity occurred prior to the accident.
“Mrs. Demaree entrusted her finances to The Van Winkle (Law) Firm, including Ms. Crotty,” Patton said, “and (Crotty) systematically, for more than two years, abused that trust.”
Attempts made Monday to reach Crotty’s husband, Judge Edwin D. Clontz, were not successful.
- Susanne Marie Crotty arrest report from the Asheville Police Department from 4.21.11
- Susanne Marie Crotty incident investigation report from the Asheville Police Department from 4.21.11
Correction: A previous version of this story did not list the correct number of total charges against Crotty.