It was sentencing day for former Tampa Firefighter Al Schaffer after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $190,000 from Hope Children’s Home.
Schaffer choked back tears Tuesday and apologized to Hope Children’s Home for embezzling money while serving as treasurer of the nonprofit organization his own father started.
The judge called it a crime of convenience and greed, but in the end gave him a far more lenient sentence than he might have received.
Schaffer pleaded guilty in December to stealing $187,000 from the charity while serving as its longtime treasurer.
Former Hope board member J.R. Farrington was among the witnesses asked to testify.
He described an organization with lax financial oversight.
“We came in once a year, got an annual report that basically told us what they had already done,” Farrington said.
Hope's Executive Director Mike Higgins, who told ABC Action News shortly after Schaffer's plea that he had been asked by prosecutors to testify at the sentencing on Hope's behalf, was not at the hearing.
Current hope board member David Sommerdorf, a traveling preacher from Alaska who was appointed to the Hope board of directors last year, spoke on behalf of the organization, saying Schaffer stole from the mouths of children and nearly caused the charity to go under.
But Farrington countered that Hope never had less than a million dollars in the bank during the time in question and never provided documentation, telling Schaffer how much he needed to pay back.
“Yes he did it over a period of four years, but I also know that for about four years, he tried to make the financial part right and literally was not allowed to do so,” Farrington said.
Two former coworkers testified about lives he saved while working as a firefighter, Schaffer’s wife testified to his good character and Schaffer took the stand himself, saying he was sorry, but offering no explanation.
The judge, after reading dozens of letters from supporters, sentenced Schaffer to one year and one day in jail .
He also has to pay everything back.
“It seems to be a reasonable sentence in light of what he did and how he has responded to what he did,” Federal Prosecutor Thomas Palermo said.
“We’re satisfied with the court’s analysis and evaluation and sentence,” said Schaffer’s attorney Anthony Arena.
The maximum possible sentence for the crime was 20 years in prison.
Schaffer stays free on bond until he reports to federal prison by June 6th.
His attorney asked the judge to recommend sending him to a minimum security prison in Pensacola.
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