NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A key operative in Toledo native Marty Frankel's fraud scheme was sentenced yesterday to four years in prison for helping him steal $200 million from insurance companies in five states.
Sonia Howe, 49, was ordered to surrender Jan. 4 to begin serving her sentence. Her lawyer, who sought house arrest for Howe, said he would appeal.
Howe faced up to 19 years in prison, but U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns imposed a more lenient sentence because she cooperated with investigators and several witnesses testified that Howe fell in with Frankel to escape with her two daughters from an allegedly abusive ex-husband.
Howe was with Frankel from the beginning of his criminal enterprises. In 1985, she got him a job at the small brokerage house she ran in Toledo with her then-husband, John Schulte.
When Frankel clashed with Mr. Schulte, Howe left her husband and moved in with Frankel.
He later moved to Greenwich and formed the Thunor Trust to buy insurance companies and loot their assets. He claimed to be investing the insurance companies' assets but instead stole the money and sent the companies phony statements, prepared by Howe, to fool them, prosecutors said.
Frankel used the money to finance a lavish lifestyle, including a private chef, luxury cars, a two-house compound in Greenwich, and several girlfriends that he attracted through ads for kinky sex, prosecutors said.
Howe remarried and settled in North Carolina, but she still traveled to Greenwich once or twice a month to prepare the phony statements and do other work that Frankel asked of her.
Howe's lawyer, Stephen Manning, argued that Howe was simply a conduit for Frankel's orders.
For her work, Frankel paid Howe about $1 million, and she received about $81,000 in wire transfers from a Swiss bank to pay for housing expenses in North Carolina.
Mr. Manning said that more than $600,000 Frankel provided was spent on legal expenses related to her divorce from Mr. Schulte and for custody of their daughters.
Shortly after Howe filed for divorce, allegations arose that Mr. Schulte had sexually abused their daughters. Mr. Schulte was later acquitted, but Howe believed the girls had been harmed, and she told the judge she would do anything to protect them.
Mr. Schulte attended the four-hour sentencing hearing yesterday and left without comment.
Howe pleaded guilty two years ago to racketeering and money-laundering charges.
Frankel has pleaded guilty to 24 counts of securities fraud and racketeering and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.