By Thomas R. Collins
WEST PALM BEACH — Mary McCarty, who for 18 years represented the southern coastal area on the Palm Beach County Commission dais, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
With sentencing set for June 4, the former commissioner is facing a federal prison term that could last five years.
The once-verbose politician said very little, wearing a more muted outfit than her last court appearance. Her neatly bobbed blond hair bore a darker, reddish hue.
McCarty, who told the judge she had taken a Xanax to try to calm down before the hearing, sat quietly as prosecutor John Kastrenakes outlined her crimes — her “three schemes” — for U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks.
There was the plotting with her husband, Kevin McCarty, to award county bond deals to firms for which he worked, and the failure to disclose her conflict before public votes.
“She personally profited because their money was shared with each other,” Kastrenakes said.
Kevin McCarty has been sentenced to eight months in prison for not reporting his wife’s crimes.
Prosecuters alleged there were bond deals she helped engineer for Kevin McCarty’s firms in Delray Beach, where Mary McCarty used to be a city commissioner, which coincided with conversations with Delray Beach officials on how the city should spend money she gave them out of her commission discretionary account.
Then there were gifts she was given by Ocean Properties even as she cast votes for that company to be the developer of a now failed convention center hotel project.
The gifts, Kastrenakes said, were mainly free or “ridiculously discounted room rates not available to the general public” at Sunset Key Cottages, an Ocean Properties resort.
Commissioner Warren Newell also received the gifts.
“The evidence would show that they agreed not to disclose the receipt of these gifts,” the prosecutor said.
McCarty listened to it all and, the corners of her mouth turned down, agreed that it was correct, then pleaded guilty.
All told, she received at least $272,000 in ill-gotten gains, which she has repaid to the government.
Jody Tagaris, who ran unsuccessfully against McCarty in the Republican primary in 2002 and is one of her fiercest critics, said she felt “nausea” as she watched, because she thinks the possible sentence is too light. “My stomach’s not sitting too well, but I’ll take what I can get.”
Tagaris moved from Delray Beach at the end of 2007 to Jupiter, she said, in part to leave what she sees as a tainted region. “I moved to a cleaner area,” she said, “if there is such a thing.”