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    Ex-mayor's prison sentence: 41/4 years

    The former leader of Belleair Beach was part of a scheme that defrauded a Utah company.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


    Former Belleair Beach Mayor Bill Atteberry was sentenced Thursday to four years and three months in prison for his role in a wide-ranging, multimillion-dollar money laundering scam that stunned residents of the small city he ran for nearly 11 years.

    A three-year period of supervised release will follow the prison term. Atteberry also was ordered to pay a $25,000 fine, and he must turn himself in to authorities in 30 days.

    Atteberry, 61, pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering in September after a jury deadlocked at a trial last summer. Shortly after his plea, Atteberry resigned from his post as mayor of the affluent beach town just south of Clearwater.

    Atteberry was accused of being the middleman in a scam that defrauded Young Living Essential Oils, a Utah-based company that makes aromatherapy items, shower gels, massage oils and other products.

    The five-term mayor insisted he had been duped by a man who offered to get the company a $12.3-million loan but wanted a $240,000 deposit from Young Living Essential Oils. The man, Robert Newman, fled to Thailand, but eventually was arrested. The company never got the loan or its deposit, which was shipped to a bank in Antigua.

    Atteberry testified during the trial that despite the concerns of Young Living Essential Oils officials, he thought the deal would go through. At Thursday's hearing in Gainesville, Atteberry said he missed certain "red flags" that would have alerted him that the deal was a scam. He then asked his supporters for forgiveness.

    "He apologized to his friends and family and community for letting them down," said his attorney, Stephen Crawford.

    Crawford said he will appeal certain aspects of the sentencing guidelines to further reduce the time Atteberry has been ordered to serve.

    "I think it's unduly harsh," Crawford said of the sentence. "The sentencing guidelines, when it comes to money laundering, are draconian."

    Atteberry could not be reached for comment.

    Atteberry's May 1999 arrest at a Sertoma breakfast meeting in a Clearwater pancake restaurant sent shock waves through Belleair Beach. Rumors spread throughout the community of 1,750 residents about Atteberry's involvement in the case.

    Concerned about any improprieties while he served as mayor, Belleair Beach council members have agreed to hire an auditor to examine the city's books for the last two years of Atteberry's tenure. The council has not made a final choice on an auditor.

    The sentence surprised friends and critics of the former mayor.

    Although he thought Atteberry was "guilty of something," City Council member Frank Lombardi said the sentence was a little harsh.

    "I think, at his age, it's a pretty hard sentence," he said. "He's not going to serve that time very well. I feel sorry for his family."

    Kaye Woolcott, who took over as mayor after Atteberry resigned and was a character witness at his trial, called the sentence a "miscarriage of justice."

    "I've know Bill for many, many years and I've known him to do nothing but right," she said. "He's just a very honest and sincere man. I'm very disappointed."

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