SALEM, Mass. — A now-disbarred Andover lawyer pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that she embezzled $170,000 from the estate of a Salisbury man, then misled the man's family and a judge.
Deborah Anthony, 68, will be formally sentenced to 18 months in jail on July 22, Salem Superior Court Judge Thomas Drechsler told her.
The plea comes two months after Drechsler rejected a plea agreement between Anthony and the Massachusetts Attorney General's office that would have resulted in a suspended jail term and probation, a sentence Drechsler called "inadequate" for the amount of the theft from the estate of John "Kip" Kavanagh of Salisbury, who died in 2011 at the age of 75.
Kavanagh, a Navy veteran, never married or had children. His chief asset was his home. In 2012, Anthony, a former criminal defense attorney who had moved her practice into probate and family court matters, was appointed to settle his affairs and divide his assets among his surviving relatives.
But, prosecutor Edward Beagan told the judge, after selling the home for $190,000 in 2013, Anthony failed to turn over the funds to the family.
Instead, she used a portion of the proceeds to replenish client accounts she had previously taken money out of, said the prosecutor; she used some of the proceeds to make payroll at what Beagan called her "failing" law firm, and she used some to make car payments and have spa treatments.
After family members asked the court to order an accounting of the estate in 2014, Anthony told a probate judge that there was $160,000 in the account. In fact, said Beagan, there was less than $2,000.
Under the plea agreement Drechsler rejected in April, Anthony would have avoided serving any time if she paid restitution.
But Drechsler pointed to the inability of probation officers and judges to enforce restitution orders in the wake of a Supreme Judicial Court decision in 2016 that said defendants who cannot afford restitution cannot be kept on probation indefinitely.
"You know she's not going to be able to pay it, as a practical matter," Drechsler told the lawyers again on Tuesday.
And the judge again said that sparing Anthony from serving any time for such a significant amount would be unfair to other defendants who have gone to prison for less.
"I can't treat her differently, I can't treat her better, just because she's an attorney," said Drechsler, who later said he thinks the fact that Anthony used her skills and position of trust as a lawyer "makes it worse."
The judge also rejected a suggestion from Anthony's lawyer, Daniel Reilly, that he impose a year of home confinement or a shorter, 60-day jail term. Reilly said he has concerns about Anthony's age and health.
"I do too," said Drechsler. But he said he does not believe home confinement amounts to punishment.
After taking a break to discuss the judge's proposed sentence, Anthony and Reilly returned to the courtroom and told the court they would accept it, as long as Anthony could have 30 days to settle her affairs before going into custody.
Anthony will be eligible for parole after serving nine months of the jail term. She will also spend three years on probation, with a condition that she not work in any position that requires her to handle other people's money, and will be required to make whatever restitution payments she can afford, to be determined by a probation officer after her release.