An appeal is now the next step for the one-time Delray Beach commissioner recently sentenced to seven years in prison after a jury earlier this year convicted her of running a Ponzi scheme.
Charlotte Durante, 69, has already been in jail for more than three years as she awaited trial on charges of money laundering and organized scheme to defraud. It took six jurors just 12 minutes of deliberations to decide to convict her of the crimes in April
after prosecutors presented testimony that the former real estate agent convinced dozens of mostly Haitian immigrant investors to give her tens of thousands of dollars they thought was going toward lucrative property deals.
Instead, prosecutors said, she funneled the money into a property she owned and used the money to help the struggling Museum of Lifestyle & Fashion History, which her daughter ran.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Charles Burton on Thursday
handed Durante the seven-year sentence but gave her credit for the time she’s already served, meaning she has already served nearly half the time. But Durante, who maintains her innocence, is appealing her conviction.
Durante’s attorney, Thomas Montgomery, filed a motion for a new trial after her conviction and last week filed an immediate appeal of her conviction and sentence. Among his arguments that Durante’s trial was flawed, Montgomery argued that Burton refused to postpone the trial for six weeks despite the fact that Durante was so sick that she missed what was supposed to have been the second day of the trial because she had to be hospitalized.
Durante has complained of suffering from several illnesses since her arrest, and a website her daughter began for her legal defense says a doctor last year diagnosed her as having a brain tumor.
Montgomery, who the court appointed to represent Durante, also claims that the 12 minutes it took jurors to decide Durante’s case means they failed to examine the more than 5,000 pages of documents in the case. And, he added, Burton should not have allowed him to represent Durante during the trial since she’s tried to fire him.
“Defendant was ‘forced’ to go to trial with an attorney she did not trust, had a conflict with and had a dislike for,” Montgomery wrote.
Durante has written many letters, including to Burton, during the time she’s been incarcerated. She has accused the judge of being a racist and part of a treacherous “power regime” she credits for unfairly targeting her. In a letter filed on the day she was sentenced, Durante took issue with a pre-sentence investigation conducted in the case, reiterating that both she and her daughter were unpaid volunteers at the museum allegedly helped by the investors’ money.
“There has never been any financial gain,” she wrote.
Before her sentencing, 47 people sent Burton letters of support on her behalf, crediting her for being a uniting force among people of different cultures and ethnicities in the Delray Beach area.
“I personally feel that she is a pillar of strength, wisdom, kindness and integrity in our community,” supporter David O’Connor wrote.