A federal judge sent a Billings woman convicted of defrauding banks and individuals with lies about her health and marriage back to prison on Monday saying her continuing behavior of scheming for money won’t be tolerated.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters revoked release for Angela Corson Smith, 36, and sentenced her to 10 months in prison after a three-hour hearing.
Over prosecution objections, Watters continued Smith’s release under house arrest conditions until she is assigned to a prison.
Smith admitted to all 13 violations of her supervised release as alleged in a petition filed by her probation officer.
In addition, Watters rejected a last-minute attempt by Smith’s defense attorney, Marvin McCann, to close the revocation hearing to the public.
McCann tried to close the hearing saying Smith had “sensitive mental and medical health information” she wanted to keep private and that her privacy interests outweighed the public’s interest in an open hearing. He filed a motion to close the 9:30 a.m. hearing shortly before 7 a.m. on Monday.
But Watters said the court hears “very personal testimony” all the time about mental health and abuse issues and that McCann had provided no legal argument to support his position.
The judge also said the request was “really not appropriate” and that the case was of interest to the public, particularly to Smith’s numerous victims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek also objected to a closed hearing saying it would be a “drastic measure” and that she had not had time to research it.
Watters followed Suek’s recommendation for a high-end sentence of 10 months.
Suek urged prison saying Smith was continuing her pattern of deception and could get mental health treatment from the Bureau of Prisons. “Prison didn’t slow Ms. Smith down at all,” Suek said.
The judge agreed, telling Smith her conduct on supervised release, including lying, sneaking around and being deceptive, is the same as what led to her fraud convictions. “The criminal thinking is still there,” she said.
Returning Smith to prison will send the message that “this won’t be tolerated,” Watters said.
Watters originally sentenced Smith in May 2014 to 27 months in prison and five years of supervised release for her guilty pleas to bank fraud and wire fraud. Watters also ordered $151,000 restitution to be paid to seven victims.
Prosecutors said Smith stole large amounts of money by manipulating businesses and individuals with lies about her health, marriage and daughter.
In one of the schemes, Smith forged her husband’s signature to get a home equity loan from a credit union. When contacted by credit union employees about loan payments, Smith lied about her daughter having died the previous day from leukemia. Her daughter was never ill, prosecutors said.
Smith also was suspected of having impersonated a nurse at Billings Clinic. Local law enforcement investigated but no charges were filed.
Smith began supervised release in July 2016 and was arrested on March 22 on a petition for violating conditions. She has been on house arrest at her parents’ house pending Monday’s hearing.
The violations included failing to make monthly restitution payments, not complying with employment conditions, not getting prior approval before opening new lines of credit, violating computer use and internet access restrictions and associating with felons without prior approval.
One of the violations involved Smith contracting with a person to buy a car by using false identification and employment circumstances and not mentioning her criminal history.
Smith used an alias, “A. Erin Hansen”, and told the seller she worked as flight medic in the Air Force and couldn’t get a loan because she was running from an abusive ex-husband who destroyed her credit, the petition said. The seller agreed to keep ownership of the car loan and the insurance under her name with Smith making monthly payments to her.
Sadie Dallaserra, Smith’s probation officer, testified on Monday that the seller was “completely caught off guard” when contacted by her about Smith’s actions and was unaware of Smith’s background.
Dallaserra said the seller entered into the unusual contact with Smith because she “felt bad for her.”
Smith, who said she was convicted as Angela Corson Smith but that her true name is Angela Erin Hansen, apologized to the court, her family and her probation officer. She said she had no idea how hard supervised release would be.
Smith, who gave birth prematurely to a baby boy last November, said getting pregnant was not planned and that she had to temporarily stop taking her mental health medications during the pregnancy.
Having resumed her medications, Smith said she is feeling better. “I know I need help,” she said.
Smith asked for house arrest so she could continue working to pay restitution and to care for her baby.
Watters said she felt sorry for Smith’s children but that Smith had only herself to blame. Smith had used her daughter in her schemes and was continuing to use her children, Watters said.
The hearing also included defense testimony from Dr. Eeva Echeverri, a Billings psychiatrist in private practice who said she has met with Smith four times.
Echeverri said she diagnosed Smith with having post-traumatic stress syndrome, panic disorder, general anxiety, major depression and attention deficit disorder. She prescribed medications and recommended continued therapy.
Echeverri said the mental health issues stem from an abusive grandfather and an abusive ex-husband.
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Lori Suek, Echeverri said her evaluation did not include testing to determine malingering or lying by Smith. Rather, she said she relied on her 30 years of experience to decide whether Smith was lying.
Echeverri also said she was unaware of all of Smith’s victims, the details of her convictions and other information regarding Smith’s actions.