A woman who scammed 262 clients out of more than $322,000 will see no jail time under a plea deal accepted by 12th Circuit Court Judge Rick Defuria Dec. 21.
Under the deal, Debra Kay Wanless, 56, will be under house arrest for a year, followed by 15 years’ probation.
Wanless, owner of Good Night Insurance, was arrested in April 2011 for insurance fraud.
The Florida Department of Financial Services closed her office on U.S. 41 in Nokomis a week earlier after receiving 15 complaints alleging she took money from elderly people for homeowners insurance but never placed the insurance.
In the weeks that followed, hundreds of clients came forward after learning Wanless provided fake documents indicating their mobile homes were insured. She kept the money instead of placing the insurance.
“I’m not happy with the sentence but you have to respect the judge’s ruling,” said Sarasota County Assistant State Attorney Elizabeth Scanlan.
“I was asking for five years in prison and 25 years probation. I think when you steal more than $300,000 from 262 people, you should be incarcerated.”
Sarasota attorney Michael Perry, who represented Wanless, said the judge likely took into consideration a number of mitigating factors.
Those include caring for her granddaughter; ongoing mental problems as detailed by a local psychologist who testified in the case; and Wanless’s attempts to pay back her clients even before she was arrested.
“She is not a bad person,” Perry said. “She’s a good person who did something bad. She’s very remorseful.”
Perry said Wanless gave up her insurance license early last year.
She came up with $25,000, which she gave to the Department of Corrections to be put toward restitution, Perry said.
Wanless currently is under house arrest, although she is not required to wear an ankle brace. She has a retail job, Perry said, and is attempting to pay restitution.
In April 2011, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrested Wanless at her residence on Albin Avenue in North Port.
The arrest was based upon a single criminal complaint filed on April 12 by retired Oak Park, Ind., police chief Arthur Grams of Nokomis.
The complaint states that Wanless persuaded the Gramses, who had valid insurance on their property, to cancel it in 2008 for what she claimed was a better deal with a different company. They paid Wanless $4,186 over two years without knowing the new policy was a fraud, according to sheriff’s office documents.
The Florida Department of Financial Services placed Wanless on probation for two years in 2007 for a single instance of the same violation — forging false proof of mobile home insurance but failing to place the insurance after accepting payment.
At the time, Grams said he didn’t believe it would amount to much.
When his prediction that she wouldn’t get jail time came true, he was livid, especially because as a victim he asked to be notified of the court date, but wasn’t.
“I didn’t want them to make any plea agreement,” Grams said Friday. “How can they put someone on probation for the same offense? I just could not believe this could happen. This will really make con men in Florida happy they can get away with fleecing the people.”
He was even more upset after he learned from the state attorney’s office that Wanless used at least some of the money she stole to build an addition onto her house and install a pool.
“She was on probation in 2007 and didn’t learn her lesson,” he said. “Then she takes the money she fleeced and put it into a house and swimming pool so the court can’t touch the money.
“She should have done at least five years in jail.”