A former property manager has been sentenced to federal prison for defrauding numerous homeowner associations in the Charleston area of more than $700,000.
Karen Colie, 46, who owned Marshland Communities on Johns Island, was sentenced Tuesday to 2½ years in prison after she pleaded guilty last fall to one count of wire fraud.
Authorities said Colie defrauded at least 19 homeowner associations over five years until 2016 when one of her employees spotted financial irregularities.
Colie was ordered to pay $770,649 in restitution, though U.S. District Judge David Norton acknowledged during her sentencing hearing Tuesday there’s “no way” she will be able to repay the full amount “unless she wins the lottery.”
Colie now works at a grocery store.
Around 70 local homeowner associations contracted with her business to collect homeowner dues and pay for services and purchases. Colie controlled the bank accounts for the associations.
Beginning in 2011, she charged clients for services that were never rendered and for items that were never purchased, according to court documents. She also inflated the time that Marshland employees spent representing the associations in court and overcharged for the collection of delinquent fees.
In 2015, Colie misled one association by crafting a fictitious email purporting to show a bank deposit of nearly $60,000.
Authorities said Colie used the misappropriated funds for her own benefit.
Her attorney, Cameron Blazer of Mount Pleasant, contended the stolen money didn’t support a lavish lifestyle. She said her client’s sole motivation was to keep her company afloat and pay Marshland’s employees as the business struggled following the housing market crash.
Colie lived in Shadowmoss, a West Ashley neighborhood that was among those that lost money under her management. News of the allegations of theft contributed to a drawn-out dispute between disgruntled Shadowmoss residents and the homeowner association board in 2016.
Four dozen Lowcountry homeowner associations once managed by Marshland sued Colie over services they were allegedly billed for but never received. State court records show the suit was later dismissed.
Colie made a tearful apology in court Tuesday, saying she’s worked hard to seek compassion and understanding from her former clients.
“I have a lot of regret, and I am deeply sorry. I loved my clients and my employees,” she said. “My actions have impacted people deeply.”
Colie’s husband, her mother, a former employee and her counselor supported her at the hearing. None of the victims were present.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Austin said Colie helped the FBI calculate the amount of money that was misappropriated, but he noted that her cooperation came after “a long period of dishonest behavior.”
Blazer asked Norton to sentence her client to an alternative to prison, such as home detention, community service or supervision. The judge, however, said the amount of money stolen was so "remarkable" he could not sentence Colie to probation.
"The message to the community would be devastating," he said.
Colie's 30-month prison sentence fell below a term of 41 to 51 months recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. She will spend three years on supervised release following incarceration.