Virginia Beach woman sentenced for real estate company scam
Mary Doenlen couldn't tell a judge Tuesday why she stole over $130,000 from her employer. She wasn't in financial straits. She has a daughter, a husband and a sickly father to tend to.
But now she's going to spend the next two years in prison.
Doenlen, of Virginia Beach, spent much of the money she embezzled from Gallery of Homes Real Estate in 2018 on shopping and entertainment, including large bills at restaurants and a Washington Nationals game.
The scheme has earned the 37-year-old two years in federal prison and three years of probation after pleading guilty in November to one count of felony wire fraud. She admitted to defrauding the company, which offers real estate brokerage and property management services, while working there as an administrative bookkeeper.
Rather than disburse rent payments to property owners who were managed by the company, she would wire money to a personal account, according to court documents. Doenlen would then cash out the majority of those funds and place them into two other accounts. She did this under the guise of "Heather Browne," a fictitious property owner she created in the company's system to make the transfers look legitimate.
Between January and November 2018, Doenlen embezzled at least $124,595 through 53 wire transfers. According to court documents, Doenlen stole an additional $10,060 from the company by way of forged checks.
As FBI investigators looked into the scheme, she initially claimed to have no involvement. She presented a forged tax form, saying she rightfully earned $119,400 from the company, according to case files. Doenlen later backtracked and admitted guilt to detectives.
Her scheme, according to prosecution paperwork, was "borne of choice, and not financial necessity or desperation." U.S. Attorney Daniel Shean recommended 30 months in prison and three years of probation, noting her crime was an elaborate effort to steal and cover her tracks.
"You're right," Doenlen said. "It wasn't just a mistake. I messed up royally. I don't have a reason for what I did that would ever suffice."
Wilfredo Bonilla Jr., public defender for Doenlen, asked for five years of probation with 10 months of house arrest. Bonilla noted that Doenlen, who uses a wheelchair and has custody of her step-daughter from a previous marriage, would be better off without imprisonment.
In addition to prison and probation, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar ordered Doenlen to forfeit anything purchased with the stolen money and to pay the $134,655 back in full.
Doenlen lacked a criminal record before the felony conviction, but Doumar insisted that the sophisticated, recurring nature of her crime merited the sentence.
"She may have had some hesitation doing it on Jan. 24," he said, "but it didn't stop her from doing it on Jan. 25."