After hearing from several friends and family members and reading almost 100 letters from friends asking him to give her probation, Circuit Judge Thomas W. Krug sentenced Holly Connelly to three years in prison with credit for time served, and 25 years probation for her guilty plea to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Key Royale Golf Club. She will also be responsible for making restitution, and Krug said he would name an amount within 60 days that she would have to repay.
After the sentence, many of the more than 80 people who packed the courtroom in Bradenton were sobbing. Many of those attending were there for Connelly’s moral support, while others were Key Royale members hoping the once-trusted bookkeeper would exact some form of punishment.
The former Key Royale bookkeeper’s friends generally requested she be allowed to avoid jail so she could raise her three children. Connelly is separated from her husband, Philip, who was in arrears for child support, according to court records.
Her attorney, Jennifer Fury, said it began in 2008 when Connelly’s husband had a failing business, was spending a lot of money to keep it going and was using drugs. She said it was a very abusive relationship, and Philip was using Holly, who felt trapped trying to hold the family together.
“She started stealing as much as $10,000 to $12,000 a month,” Fury said. “They had huge deficits and people were suing Philip for work not done.”
Fury said it wasn’t until the board made changes and a new treasurer came in that members of the board got suspicious.
“Somebody looked, finally,” Fury said. “She (Holly Connelly) said she wished somebody would have looked sooner.”
Fury said she could find no evidence that Connelly hid some of the money in bank accounts overseas, as some people thought.
“She spent it all,” Fury said.
Fury argued against a long sentence, citing similar cases on record. One was a person who embezzled a half million dollars from Hillsborough County and got two years house arrest and probation. Another person got six years for running a business into the ground.
In arguing for probation and restitution, Fury noted that after her arrest, she got out of jail on parole and got her high school GED. She worked three jobs to support her family because her husband was not doing so. She said on probation, Connelly could learn job skills that could increase her earning power so she could make restitution faster.
“I would say that after doing this for 13 years, Holly’s one of the most impressive clients I have had,” Fury said. “Her attitude with me was always one of remorse and disgust. There has never been an attempt for Ms. Connelly to escape blame for what she did.”
Witnesses for CONNELLY
Family friend Courtney Hendricks said Connelly has recently been motivated to reach goals she never thought were attainable.
“She has no history of crime,” Hendricks said. “She has been willing to take responsibility for her actions and right the wrong.
Hendricks’ mother, Carolyn, said if she goes to jail, it will cost the state $50,000 per child to take care of them.
“There is no question in my mind that Holly would do what she could to better herself,” Hendricks said.
Another friend, Jean Chamberlin, pointed out that Connelly went to Haiti to take supplies to the needy there, and she was a Girl Scout leader.
Jake Gallo, who looked after the Connelly kids when Connelly was first arrested, urged probation.
“When she got out of jail, she lived with them,” he said. “She was always a good mother, very doting.”
Gallo said if she loses the children, “We’ll all lose.”
Prosecutor Christopher Nigro asked Gallo his reaction when he heard about the charges against Connelly.
“I didn’t see her in that role,” he said, adding he was shocked.
Tammy Angelou, who took care of the children from time to time, talked about Connelly’s family life.
“From the first time I met him, it was apparent Holly was abused,” she said. “If Brianna was at my home, Philip called several times an hour.
“He was very controlling and Brianna wanted to get out of the house,” She added. “If you mentioned his name, she would start shaking.”
Another friend, Henry Tobin, talked about Connelly’s husband.
“She didn’t have three children, she had four with Philip,” he said. “I always considered him a loose cannon.
“He was evicted after he got the children and he called her sister to try to get her to bail him out,” Tobin said.
Connelly’s sister, Dawn Robertson, said she hoped Holly would get probation and be with the
“I love her and I want her around,” she said.
Connelly’s mother, Cindy Lawson, said Connelly took care of her stepfather when she was 18.
“She looked after everyone but herself,” she added. “She was the breadwinner and Phil’s attitude was to come and go as he pleased.”
She offered to sign a note for the missing money.
Club leaders testify
Key Royale President Craig Humphries, said he heard that 100 club members wrote letters asking that she get a lenient sentence.
“Certainly everyone is entitled to an opinion,” he said. “We have no right under the by-laws to drop members for their opinions.
“No member voiced an opinion to me that she should escape punishment,” he said. “This flagrant embezzlement caused the near downfall of the club.”
He said publicity made it hard to recruit new members. He talked about when they met with her to ask about the missing money.
“She lied when she said the computer was broken and she had lost data,” he said. “After we fired her, she produced a flash drive (with the data on it).”
Club treasurer Tim Friesen said he became suspicious when Connelly said a power surge had damaged the computer but other equipment such as the printer was still working.
Friesen said she refused to give him bank records but when he got signatory authority on the bank account, he was able to see them.
“I saw $500 withdrawals from the ATM to the tune of $10,000 a month,” he said. “That debit card was supposed to be used for emergencies.”
Friesen said he went to Humphries and past president Terry Schafer and asked if this was normal. They said no and they arranged a meeting with Holly on April 1, 2011.
“I showed her the transactions and she said she had no idea what they were,” he said. “Then I saw the forged checks written six at a time with consecutive check numbers made out to Holly Connelly, $387,000 in forged checks that were all deposited in the same account where she deposited her paychecks.”
Friesen said there is still the question of where all that money went.
“Once the bank showed me the forged checks, they stopped producing records,” he said. “For all we know, she might have some of it in a safety deposit box there.”
He said they would like for her to surrender her passport so they can see if she went somewhere to set up a foreign account, although they found out later her mother has Connelly’s passport.
Former club president Terry Schafer said each of the members is looking to the judge to set punishment for “this heinous crime.” He also said he wished the club would have known about her other problems.
“After working with Holly over the past years, I firmly believe she has a criminal mind,” he said. “No prison time would be a miscarriage of justice.”
“There is not a day that goes by when I’m not remorseful,” she said. “I know there were many people hurt by my actions.”
She said she can’t take back what has been done, but there have been some positive changes in her life such as her GED and changing her living situation.
Final arguments and the sentence
Prosecutor Nigro asked for 10 years in prison and 20 years probation.
“She will never have an opportunity as a convicted felon to pay back Key Royale Club.” He said.
Fury again brought up comparable cases where the guilty parties got less than what the state rating system suggested.
Judge Krup said that her score in a rating system made it possible to give her probation or he could sentence her to 30 years in prison. He said the reality is sentencing is punishment, but more than the guilty are punished. He praised Fury for doing a great job.
“I believe Key Royale Club is not the only victim,” he said, “If you were permitted to walk out of the courtroom today, the community would still be safe but taking between $387,000 and $487,000 – the number shocks.”
He gave her the sentence and told her she had 30 days to appeal.