Marie Pupke held her 11-year-old daughter’s hand as they watched “Uncle Tim,” in handcuffs and a blue jail uniform, await his change of plea hearing on federal charges of bank fraud Thursday.
It was mostly a perfunctory inquiry, held to ensure former Lake Worth attorney Timothy McCabe knew the consequences of reaching an agreement with federal prosecutors that included pleading guilty to five felony counts of fraud on a financial institution.
But the child wanted to go — for closure, Pupke said, and her presence seemed to underscore that not only had McCabe, 55, swindled millions of dollars from clients before going on the lam in April, but also betrayed trusts and friendships.
“I think it’s good that she came to show him what he has lost,” said Pupke, a decades-long friend of McCabe’s who believes he took $1.2 million in real estate funds she had in his firm’s accounts.
In the plea agreement paperwork released late Thursday, McCabe admits to stealing client money to pay for expenses at his law firm, title company, a travel agency and for his kickboxing footwear company, Ringstar.
He also admits to defrauding clients in a mortgage rescue scam in which he took money from homeowners to negotiate loan modifications, but did not do the work, and to operating a Ponzi scheme in which he used new investor money to pay returns to previous investors.
“I’d like to sit behind him and tell him what an SOB he is,” said Realtor Vicki Meyer, who sat in the courthouse’s pew-like benches Thursday and seethed. “I just needed to come.”
Meyer is out about $35,000 in commissions and faces a lawsuit from a former client after McCabe’s disappearance jeopardized real estate deals.
McCabe’s wife, who lives in Boca Raton with the couple’s three daughters, did not attend the hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge James Hopkins. McCabe faces up to 30 years in prison on each of the felony counts. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.
Still left unanswered Thursday was where McCabe went after running away in April, and details of what happened to everyone’s money. McCabe’s attorney, Robert Gershman, said that information will come out, but not yet.
It’s uncertain how much was even taken by McCabe. Prosecutors said they’ve sent letters to dozens of former clients trying to get a measure. The amount is now believed to be between $2.5 million and $7 million.
Gershman asked that McCabe remain in the Palm Beach County jail before the sentencing hearing so he can more conveniently help sort through “voluminous” paperwork that will be needed to better define client losses before he is sentenced.
McCabe disappeared April 2, leaving cryptic messages to his wife and colleagues that talked about “financially devastating” secret business dealings that “made people millions of dollars the past several years” but nothing for his family.
While conducting foreclosure defense and real estate title work, McCabe also dabbled in side businesses such as Ringstar and the Deerfield Beach-based Cruise Superstore, which opened last year.
McCabe turned himself in to the FBI June 20 after a criminal complaint was issued.
The charges Thursday were based on real estate deals in which McCabe, who was a partner in McCabe & Samiljan law firm, accepted money to pay off loans during home sales or refinances, but diverted the money elsewhere.
In six lawsuits filed in Palm Beach County since his disappearance, McCabe is accused of running a Ponzi scheme, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars through a nationwide foreclosure defense scam, duping a company into buying Iraqi dinars with promises of “significant profit,” and swindling real estate investors.
His plea deal requires him to pay restitution. But Pupke and Meyer wonder if there is any money left to repay.
“This is like having cancer and going through the treatment,” said Pupke. “I want to know why he did this. I’m sad for what he’s done.”
Two weeks out of back surgery, it was so important for Pupke to attend Thursday’s hearing that she came in a back brace and using a cane. She said she knows McCabe saw her, her daughter, and her husband, Mark, but didn’t make eye contact.
After seeing McCabe, hands shackled and led out of the federal courthouse by U.S. marshals, Meyer softened. But just a little.
“I want him to rot in jail, but at the same time I felt really bad for him,” she said. “I wanted to shake him and say, ‘How did you get from the Tim I knew to this?’ ”