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Ex-guardian gets probation

Fran Lang, who pleaded guilty to scheming to defraud elderly people under her guardianship, is sentenced to 15 years probation and 1,600 hours of menial labor.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- The prosecutor said Fran Lang's sentence should include a year in the county jail.

The judge thought Lang should serve 15 years probation and do 1,600 hours of menial labor.

Pasco County Clerk of Court Jed Pittman thought Lang should have to spend the rest of her life in prison.

"She's a despicable person," Pittman said of Lang. "When you steal the money of people who can't even help themselves, what is that?"

Prosecutors say Lang, 43, of Dunedin made a career out of stealing money from the elderly people whose well-being she was responsible for. Lang served as the court-appointed guardian for about four dozen elderly people in the area, and used her power of attorney status to transfer her wards' money into her personal bank account, prosecutors say.

On Monday, Lang pleaded guilty to operating a scheme to defraud after Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge William Webb agreed to sentence her to 200 days in jail, which she can avoid though a work-release program, and 15 years probation. As a condition of her probation, Lang cannot serve as a guardian or have power of attorney over anybody.

Prosecutors said they could prove Lang stole about $65,000 from her wards over a two-year period ending in June 1998, but they think she took even more. Lang's attorney, Cimos Angelis of Tarpon Springs, said his client deserved favorable treatment because she already has repaid $114,000.

"She is very deeply remorseful," Angelis said, adding that Lang has sold everything she owns to make restitution.

"The offenses were an aberration in her character," Angelis said, and were the result of Lang "going through rough emotional and financial times."

Lang still has $5,000 left to repay, Angelis said. Webb ordered her to pay the remaining restitution as a condition of her sentence.

The judge commended Lang for already repaying most of what she took, but he said her efforts at restitution "appear to be motivated by discovery of the crime."

The charge, a first-degree felony, carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. But under state sentencing guidelines, Lang, who had no prior criminal record, only scored a year in the county jail.

Webb, after entering a judgment of guilt, said Lang could serve her 200 days in jail through the county's Operation Payback program. The program, which is run by the Sheriff's Office, requires convicts to work at least two supervised 8-hour shifts each week. The work includes chores such as mowing grass, picking up litter and painting park benches. Each completed shift counts for a day in jail.

Prosecutors credit Pittman's office with uncovering irregularities in Lang's financial statements and bringing the case to the attention of authorities. Lang resigned her guardian duties in November 1998 as the inquiry into her actions deepened.

Most of her wards were in Pasco County, but she also looked after the affairs of a small number of elderly Pinellas residents.

Pittman said he was outraged at the sentence Lang received. "I was shocked to learn that she's only going to be picking up paper," he said.

"She ought to be in a state prison for life," Pittman said. "She betrayed a trust that is so close and personal."

Lang, who said little during the hearing, declined to answer questions from a Times reporter.

- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com.

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