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Woman's luck with leniency runs out

Federal officials say a woman with a lengthy criminal record violated her probation. Now they want her locked up.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2000


LARGO -- This time, Beth Ackerman may be headed to prison.

Federal officials say Ackerman violated her probation for a 1998 bankruptcy fraud conviction by failing to tell them about her arrests last year on Pinellas charges of writing bad checks and scheming to defraud.

Probation officials apparently learned of the arrests after reading an April 16 article in the St. Petersburg Times, detailing how Ackerman had not spent a day in jail despite a lengthy criminal record.

Now, U.S. Probation Officer Janice Bradley has asked a federal judge to revoke Ackerman's federal probation and send the Pinellas woman to prison.

If U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday follows a recommendation by probation officials, Ackerman, 35, faces up to five years in prison.

"I don't know about any of that," Ackerman said Wednesday. "I'm being honest with you. The probation people never told me I was being violated."

Probation officials confirmed that Ackerman had received a summons ordering her to appear in federal court May 18.

At that time, she may be jailed or bail will be set, pending a later hearing before Merryday on the recommendation by probation officials.

Ackerman seemed headed for a sure prison term last year in Pinellas until she dropped the name of a well-known relative.

Pinellas prosecutors say Ackerman told them she was the niece of E.J. Salcines, a judge with the 2nd District Court of Appeal, as she awaited trial on charges of writing bad checks and scheming to defraud.

Salcines' brother-in-law is married to Ackerman's aunt. Though Ackerman calls him "Uncle E.J.," Salcines said he does not consider Ackerman a relative.

Prosecutors say they thought Ackerman was implying she could get favorable treatment from the Pinellas judge hearing her case, who happened to be a friend of Salcines.

Pinellas prosecutors then offered Ackerman an unusually lenient plea deal for someone facing up to 35 years in prison.

Ackerman pleaded no contest to writing five bad checks and a felony scheme to defraud. In addition, she admitted to numerous violations of her Pinellas probation.

Prosecutors agreed to take Ackerman off house arrest for previous convictions and place her on probation.

Prosecutors denied that they offered the deal because of her relationship with Salcines.

Ackerman's federal probation, however, is a separate situation.

Ackerman's Clearwater attorney, John Trevena, said, "Clearly this is something being done (by federal probation) in retaliation against Beth for discussing her relationship with E.J. Salcines" with the press. Federal probation officials, who declined to comment Wednesday, have previously said Ackerman did not violate her federal probation because her Pinellas criminal activity came before she pleaded guilty in federal court to bankruptcy fraud.

But upon review, probation officials determined that was not the case.

Ackerman routinely back-dated checks to make it appear the checks were written before the imposition of her three-year probation sentence for federal bankruptcy fraud.

In that way, it appeared she had not violated her probation when, probation officials said, she actually had.

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