Ex-property manager gets four years probation for stealing $66K from Long Reef Condominiums

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ST. CROIX - After more than four years languishing in the court system, the V.I. Superior Court embezzlement case against Crystal Ann Webster ended Friday with a four-year suspended prison sentence.

Webster, 36, of Herman Hill was arrested in November 2009 and charged with more than 30 counts of drawing and delivering worthless checks, embezzlement by employee and fraud.

The board of directors and homeowners of Long Reef Condominiums said that while she was a property manager there, Webster stole more than $66,000 from the association over the course of 10 months in 2007.

Webster had pleaded not guilty to the charges against her until late last year when she accepted a plea offer from prosecutors and entered a guilty plea to just two of the counts that charged her with drawing and delivering worthless checks that were valued at $5,000.

Defense attorney Martial Webster, who is also the defendant's uncle, said his client was a very responsible young woman, with no prior criminal contact, who had been thrown into the position at the association without any experience and did all that she could to keep the books and finances in order. He said in addition to working for the company, she also lived at the complex and felt compelled to keep things in order.

Martial Webster said his client realized that checks from the association had been paid out for which funds were not available and tried to right the wrong by writing checks from her personal account to cover them, but that account also had insufficient funds.

"She said she didn't know that what she was doing at the time was wrong, she was just trying to cover the expenses of the association but committed the fraud," Martial Webster said.

"Their board was headed by an accountant, her boss and nobody heard anything from him," he said. "There is talks about others being part of some scheme to embezzle, but in this whole thing, the discovery evidence was an issue from the start."

Martial Webster said Crystal Webster was remorseful and took responsibility for the acts that she committed but could not be held accountable for anything else that was not substantiated by evidence presented to the court.

Crystal Webster apologized to the court, her family and to the Long Reef Association.

"What I did was try to help and it came back and bite me, but right now I'm just ready to deal with whatever sentence the court is going to hand down," she said.

Two of members of the Board of directors, Joseph Pierce and association president Johana Ramsey, addressed the court, saying that Webster's actions were willful and calculated and that the money that is unaccounted for was to be used for parking lot repairs which the association now is unable to complete. They both described the plea deal as overly generous and asked the court sentence her to the maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Assistant Attorney General Esther Walters said her office has an ethical obligation to seek justice, but with the limited discovery handed over by the association, she sought an opinion from Attorney General Vincent Frazer and offered what was thought to be a fair offer for both sides.

Willocks was deliberate and extensive in explaining the processes before imposing sentence, saying that while victims may seek maximum penalties in various crimes, there is a process that must be followed and any sentence handed out must suit the crime. "When looking at the sentence you must look at the nature of the crime, rehabilitation, deterrence and punishment," he said. "I understand the frustration, but there must be a balance."

He said there were some issues with discovery that could have exonerated Webster and all of those things must be looked at.

He sentenced Webster to four years in prison on each of the charges and suspended the entire sentence and placed her on four years probation. She must complete 1,000 hours of community service, pay $5,000 in restitution, pay $75 in court costs and a $500 probation supervision fee.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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