The Tamba Tribune by ELAINE SILVESTRINI - July 27, 2009
Once an influential judge, Thomas E. Stringer is now ready to admit he is a criminal. And he did it all for a stripper.
The former 2nd District Court of Appeal judge has agreed to plead guilty to committing federal bank fraud by helping a stripper hide her financial assets from creditors. His admission is not likely to earn him jail time but probably will require him to forfeit more than $220,000. Stringer's career began to unravel after stripper Christy Yamanaka, who danced in a famous New York club, told reporters about their 13-year relationship. He and Yamanaka met at the old Malio's restaurant on South Dale Mabry Highway in 1995, when she was working as a dancer at 2001 Odyssey adult club. She said the relationship had been sexual, but the married judge denied that. The financial misdeeds were another matter. The judge has said her money went into bank accounts he opened in his name because she had terrible credit. Yamanaka said the judge helped her hide assets from creditors at a time when she had court judgments against her totaling about $315,000. Stringer retired from the bench in February as the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission was pressing forward with misconduct charges and the FBI was investigating him. The judicial commission later dropped its ethics complaint because Stringer was no longer a judge. Authorities began looking at Stringer after a series of reports in March 2008 by News Channel 8 and The Tampa Tribune revealed that Stringer allowed Yamanaka to deposit tens of thousands of dollars into his bank accounts. The federal charge against Stringer carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, but he is likely to receive probation as part of his plea deal.
In his plea agreement, Stringer agrees to forfeit more than $222,000 and to disclose all his assets and submit to a lie detector on that issue if prosecutors deem one necessary. Under a federal information filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, Stringer is accused of devising a scheme to obtain money from Wells Fargo Bank "by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses." It also says Stringer purchased a home in Hawaii in his name "even though the funds for the purchase would and did come from another individual." Although the individual is not named in the court document, Yamanaka has said Stringer purchased a house for her in his name. The charge says Stringer lied on a loan application, claiming the down payment was his own money. The judge waived his right to have his case heard by a grand jury. An information is a charging document drawn up by a federal prosecutor. The judicial commission has also accused the judge of failing to disclose valuable gifts that Yamanaka lavished on him, including Rolex watches, a holiday vacation in Las Vegas and trip to New York City, where he stayed in the posh Waldorf Astoria.
In February, Stringer was to answer the commission's questions under oath. Three days before the planned deposition, the judge sent a letter informing the governor of his retirement. Stringer could not be reached for comment. His personal attorney, Lansing Scriven, released a statement that said Stringer admitted he made a mistake by submitting an incorrect mortgage application, but that "there was no loss in this case" and that the loan was repaid in full. "He is remorseful for his error in judgment, but would also like to emphasize that his conduct does not involve any abuse of his office as a judge. This isolated incident in no way detracts from Judge Stringer's distinguished career as an attorney, judge and public servant," Scriven's statement said. Former federal prosecutor Lee Atkinson said the government built a federal case out of a technical violation of bank fraud statutes. "Once a public figure is indicted by the media, the court of public opinion requires that the government take some sort of action to put it to rest," Atkinson said. Stringer was one of the first black judges on the Hillsborough Circuit Court and, later, on the 2nd District Court of Appeal, where he was one of 14 judges.