Miami Beach

Former Miami Beach health clinic leader sentenced in embezzlement case

The community knew Kathryn Abbate as the leader of a Miami Beach-based clinic that provides vital healthcare to the poor and uninsured.

Secretly, her attorney and prosecutors say she was a gambler, drug addict and thief, raiding almost $7 million from the Miami Beach Community Health Center to support her habits.

For that, a federal judge on Wednesday sentenced Abbate to 42 months in prison -- but not before her attorney Bruce Lyons spun a tale of a deeply troubled woman.

He called it a “tale of two Kathryns.”

According to Lyons: There were long nights playing slots at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Bundles of cash for unnamed politicians -- some of it surreptitiously left under a raincoat. Secret payments to settle sexual harassment allegations against a clinic employee. Another $50,000 went to someone’s wedding.

“I accept the responsibility for my conduct,” Abbate told Judge Marcia Cooke, “because I am responsible.”

She added: “I am 64-years-old. Not in the greatest of health. And I am petrified...I’m just praying that you’ll consider my lifetime of service.”

Lyons said his client didn’t live a lavish lifestyle, but she stole to secretly feed her addictions.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke called Abbate a “woman of intellect and access” before saying: “If she was in need of funds, she had the intellect and the means to make more...but she stole.”

The ill-gotten money flowed from unearned leave time paid out to Abbate, as well as 800 checks she paid to herself from 2008 until she was caught in 2012, according to prosecutors. She claimed the money was for “community development,” and despite offering no back up documentation, the expenses passed the examination of auditors year after year.

The health center has sued the companies responsible for looking over the center’s books, and three people quit or were fired after news broke of Abbate’s embezzlement -- which the center made public by contacting The Miami Herald.

Lyons on Wednesday questioned the amount that Abbate actually stole from the center, saying that the $7 million figure was reached by one of the very auditing firms that failed to detect her plundering. Cooke held off on determining how much Abbate will have to pay back until that number is settled.

At the first sign of trouble, Abbate tried to cover up her theft, claiming that $1 million of the missing money was paid out to five doctors, according to prosecutors.

“The money had not been paid to these doctors, but rather had been misappropriated by Abbate,” according to a statement.

Abbate pled guilty in March and faced up to 10 years in prison. She received a lighter sentence in exchange for cooperating with authorities.

Lyons on Wednesday hinted at that several investigations revolving around the center are still ongoing. He asked that Abbate not be made to surrender for her prison term until her cooperation in those investigations is over.

The judge set an initial surrender date of August 1.

In an emailed statement, center representatives wrote: “Today’s sentencing of Kathryn Abbate, former CEO of the Miami Beach Community Health Center, brings us closer to the end of a very difficult chapter in the Center’s proud 30-year history of serving the community. From the time Ms. Abbate’s outrageous breach of a sacred trust came to light, the Center has cooperated fully with all state and federal authorities and will continue to do so.”

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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