Stephanie Bitis of Sag Harbor was sentenced on Friday morning, July 23, to 15 months in prison plus one year of supervised release, in addition to being required to pay a little more than $300,000 in restitution, for defrauding her former employer, Long Island Radio Broadcasting in Water Mill.
U.S. District Judge Gary R. Brown said he considered Ms. Bitis’s service to the community and the support of her friends, family and current employer and the efforts that she has made so far toward restitution, but considering the “significant magnitude” of the crime plus the fact that she had engaged in similar behavior before, an “incarceratory sentence” was warranted.
Judge Brown also noted that Ms. Bitis was “paid handsomely” for her work while she used the funds she embezzled on maintaining a boat, engaging in exotic travel and enjoying fine dining and “extravagant luxuries.” The prosecutor had stated that her salary as general manager of Long Island Radio Broadcasting — the radio group that includes WEHM, WBAZ and WBEA — was $150,000.
The judge said he also found it particularly troubling that Ms. Bitis had committed essentially the same crime before to a lesser but still significant extent. In that case, Ms. Bitis was working for CBS’s WFAN with a salary of $450,000, according to the prosecution, and misappropriated $88,158. Ms. Bitis paid back the funds and was never criminally prosecuted, but Judge Brown said the court is required to consider prior conduct. He also noted that the cost to the victim in the most recent case was even higher than $300,000 considering the expense of an investigation.
Judge Brown rejected the notion that Ms. Bitis’s behavior was a “mistake.” Instead, he said, “it was an intentional, brazen and foolhardy manifestation of greed.”
According to the prosecutor and Ms. Bitis’s admissions when she pleaded guilty in November 2020 to access device fraud, she used a company card on personal expenses and then covered up the activity by providing false information to accountants.
Ms. Bitis’s contributions to her family and the support of her friends, family members and business associates moderated the sentence, Judge Brown said, and he concluded his explanation by calling the sentence sufficient and not greater than necessary.
Based on the $302,585 loss suffered by the victim, federal advisory sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 24 to 30 months. However, Ms. Bitis’s defense counsel and the federal prosecutor came to an agreement that the prosecution would seek a sentence in the range of 12 to 18 months. The defense still had the option to ask for less, and it did.
Ms. Bitis’s counsel, Thomas Kenniff, argued for probation instead of prison time, citing the need for Ms. Bitis to be able to work to pay restitution and to support her family, as well as her health and the damage already done to her reputation. Following the judge announcing the sentence, Mr. Kenniff raised the possibility of community confinement or home confinement, but Judge Brown said he had already considered those options.
Mr. Kenniff brought to the sentencing in Central Islip two checks that totaled $125,000. The first check, for $72,414.99, is for the Granite State Insurance Company, which paid out a $250,000 claim to Long Island Radio Broadcasting. The second check is for $52,585.01 to the radio group. That leaves a balance of $177,585.01 to be paid in restitution to the insurance company.
Mr. Kenniff explained that Ms. Bitis used the equity in her home to borrow money to pay for the restitution and legal expenses and said she is “mortgaged to the eyeballs.” He said there is no financial gain for Ms. Bitis “as a result of her graft,” and it will instead cost her much more than she ever took. He further argued that the public shaming that this has brought on Ms. Bitis in a small town, including media coverage, is a strong cautionary tale that would dissuade anyone else considering similar conduct.
He said Ms. Bitis’s conduct reflects poorly on her and is a serious character flaw but does not define her character. He pointed out that church parishioners, community members, fellow school board members from her time on the Sag Harbor Board of Education and a former Sag Harbor School District superintendent submitted letters attesting that she is part of the fabric of the community.
Ms. Bitis also spoke prior to the sentencing. She said any good that she has done in 58 years of life — she turned 59 on Monday — has been erased by the tremendous mistake she made. “I’m sorry we’re all here,” she said.
She apologized for hurting people, including Long Island Radio Broadcasting owner Lauren Stone, and expressed remorse for the toll on her family. She said she will have to live with the consequences and that in the court of public opinion it’s a life sentence. “My life is over, but there’s a lot of people relying on me,” she said.
She asked the judge to find the goodness in her and to allow her to make amends while being able to continue to send her children to college.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Bagnuola told the judge that the court should give little weight to the notion that media coverage has already imposed a sentence of sorts. This is repeat behavior, in some ways escalating behavior, he said, and the sentence should be a deterrent.
The judge wanted to know what the attorneys thought of the statute that says the court has a duty to impose a sentence that allows the victim to be repaid. Mr. Bagnuola pointed out that the victim will be repaid by one of the checks presented that day, while the balance of the restitution is to the insurance company, which he said is legally not considered a victim. Mr. Kenniff replied that not considering the insurance company a victim is a picayune, hypertechnical reading of the statute.
The date when Ms. Bitis will start her sentence was not scheduled. The attorneys confirmed to the judge that they will find a mutually agreeable date.
“I am so pleased that justice has been served,” Ms. Stone wrote in an email Friday afternoon. “Now I can focus all my attention on building my business back up! It’s been a very difficult few years.”