A former controller for the company that developed several high-end properties, including Turnberry Place and Town Square Shopping Center, was sentenced Friday to 37 months in federal prison for embezzling $5.6 million from the company.
Hope Ippoliti, 52, who was a western regional controller for Turnberry West Realty, a subsidiary of Turnberry Associates, also was ordered to pay the company $5.6 million in restitution.
Ippoliti, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, is to surrender to prison authorities on Jan. 16.
A tearful Ippoliti apologized to Turnberry for her actions and told U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro that she participated in the scheme for five years out of fear of her co-defendant, Rocco Lazazzaro, whom she described as a “sociopath.”
Ippoliti said Lazazzaro, 55, whom she met through an online dating service, had threatened and extorted her.
“It is with great shame and embarrassment that I stand before you,” Ippoliti said. “I did a stupid thing. I did not go to authorities.”
In 2007, early in the embezzlement scheme, Ippoliti filed a criminal complaint against Lazazzaro with Las Vegas police alleging he had made death threats against her, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown said.
But Ippoliti continued to make fraudulent bank account transfers for nearly five more years, Brown said.
After she was fired from her $200,000-a-year job in January 2012, Ippoliti cooperated with investigators at some risk to her safety, leading to an additional extortion charge against Lazazzaro, according to prosecutors.
Lazazzaro pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and later was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay more than $3.7 million in restitution.
Ippoliti, who does not have a previous criminal record, told Navarro that most of the $5.6 million stolen from Turnberry went to Lazazzaro and that she only got roughly $100,000.
Prosecutors have been unable to account for about $2 million.
“I wish that I could take back all that has happened,” Ippoliti said. “I do not want this one act to define who I am.”
A Turnberry lawyer wanted Navarro to sentence Ippoliti to 41 months in prison, as Brown recommended, saying she caused a lot of harm to the company and its employees. The scheme unfolded in the middle of the economic downturn when Turnberry was undergoing layoffs.
In the end, Navarro said she was not impressed with Ippoliti’s remorse.
She said Ippoliti made more than 250 fraudulent bank transactions during the five-year scheme.
“I have a hard time having sympathy for someone like you,” the judge said. “You could have said no. Someone of your upbringing should have known better.”
According to the indictment, Ippoliti had signatory authority and access to Turnberry bank accounts. Between May 2007 and January 2012, Ippoliti falsely represented that fund transfer requests she made were for Turnberry business-related expenses when she intended to use the money to benefit herself and Lazazzaro, the indictment alleged.
Between Feb. 14 and Feb. 16, 2012, Lazazzaro attempted to extort more money from Turnberry Associates, the indictment alleged.