Woman sentenced in smear scheme

The Tampa Tribune December 16, 1999

Woman sentenced in smear scheme

Author: SARAH HUNTLEY; The Tampa Tribune TAMPA -

A 62-year-old paralegal who helped accuse two court officials of misconduct is sentenced to 61/2 years in prison. If Dana Corum had a fault, it may have been that she was too trusting. Corum, 62, often softens her heart to help others but rarely sharpens her skepticism to question what she is told, her friends and attorney told a federal judge in Tampa on Wednesday. Had she done so, she might have been spared 61/2 years behind bars. U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara handed the gray-haired paralegal the prison term for her participation in a bizarre plot to smear the reputations of a federal judge and prosecutor. The scheme was hatched by a one-time associate of Corum’s, Michael Barfield. Its aim was to get the judge to recuse himself from the case of one of Barfield’s acquaintances, a Cape Coral developer accused of embezzling millions. Barfield and a private investigator filed a false affidavit in 1997 alleging that U.S. District Judge Lee P. Gagliardi and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Haley secretly met at a cafe to discuss the case. Such a rendezvous would have violated ethical guidelines, but the FBI later determined it never happened. Although Corum did not sign the affidavit, prosecutors accused her of repeatedly lying to agents to cover up the plot. A federal jury found her guilty of two counts of obstructing justice and one count each of being an accessory after the fact and conspiracy. Corum, who said she didn’t know the allegations were false until after the scheme was launched, had at least one warning that Barfield, an ex-convict, was untrustworthy. A friend of Corum’s, Doris Sangparsert, testified that Corum helped her recover money Barfield stole years ago. “It used to be that your word was as good as a contract. … Unfortunately, Dana still lives by that,” Sangparsert said Wednesday. But prosecutors scoffed at the notion that Corum was a victim. “The defendant does not stand here convicted of four felonies because of some momentary lapse of judgment,” prosecutor Miles Ehrlich said. “This scheme stretched out over a year.” Ehrlich argued that Corum’s participation in the lie sullied the integrity of two “distinguished people.” “It doesn’t take much to imagine how painful it must be to have to labor under the cloud of suspicion, day in and day out,” he said. Gagliardi died before he was publicly cleared of the allegations. Haley continues to work for the U.S. attorney’s office and was recently transferred from Fort Myers to Tampa. Barfield and the private detective, Deana M. Scapaccino, ultimately testified against Corum. They are both serving prison time. Barfield was sentenced to 10 years; Scapaccino got 15 months. But even that doesn’t undo the damage to the system, Ehrlich said. The public still has the perception of two court officers, sworn to uphold the law, “trying to fix a case in the shadows,” he said. “That is a lasting scar.” Before passing sentence, Lazzara told a crying Corum that he agreed Barfield was responsible for the plot. “Wherever that man goes, trouble follows,” he said. “He’s a con man’s con man, no question about it.” Nonetheless, the judge said Corum deserved to be punished. “Judge Gagliardi was an outstanding person, an outstanding jurist. Kathleen Haley has devoted her life to government. What has been done to these people is unconscionable. … You had a chance to stop that.” Lazzara peered down from the bench. “How in the world did you get involved with a man like that?” he asked, referring to Barfield. “Because we believed him,” Corum said. “We treated him like a son.” The paralegal called her failure to report the plot to authorities one of her “big mistakes” and said she knows better now. After federal agents began bearing down on her, she said, she confronted Barfield. “I asked Michael who was behind this grand scheme,” she told Lazzara, her gruff voice shaking. “He sat back and laughed. He pointed at me and said, “You are.’ “

Copyright 1999 The Tribune Co. Record Number: 121699130





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