Timothy McCabe, in handcuffs and gray sweatpants, walked into the West Palm Beach courtroom of federal magistrate Judge David Lee Brannon on Thursday, answering at least one of the questions that has tormented former clients and friends since his April disappearance. He’s alive.
McCabe, 55, had turned himself in four hours before the 2 p.m. hearing. He resurfaced one day after the FBI filed a criminal complaint claiming the runaway lawyer took as much as $8 million from clients and his Lake Worth law firm’s bank accounts, then vanished.
Word spread quickly through McCabe’s network that he was back _ setting phones abuzz on golf courses and interrupting vacations.
“I want to know what the hell he was thinking and where is the money,” said Realtor Vickie Meyer, whose clients have lost more than $100,000 and, with no one else to blame, threatened to sue her. “I want to look him in the eye so he knows what he’s done to us. How dare he?”
Meyer said she was convinced McCabe was dead. Cryptic emails sent to colleagues and his wife on the day he disappeared hinted that he may take drastic actions after “a series of very bad business decisions.”
“I made people millions and none for us,” McCabe wrote to his wife Donna. “I am trying to rectify it. If I cannot, then I am going to set my affairs in order and finish a few things I started…I will love you forever.”
McCabe, a Boca Raton resident with three young daughters, was also facing disciplinary action from the Florida Supreme Court before his disappearance for trying to end-run a foreclosure lawsuit against one of his properties. His law license was suspended April 18, and there is a June 26 hearing on possible sanctions.
On Thursday, no one answered the door at the Lake Worth law office McCabe shared with partner Steven Samiljan on South M Street. The back door was barricaded by a board.
While conducting foreclosure defense and real estate title work, McCabe also dabbled in side businesses that likely contributed to his financial problems.
His company Ringstar manufactures martial arts shoes. Samiljan told the FBI some of the missing money may have been invested there. McCabe opened the Deerfield Beach-based Cruise Superstore in the fall, but at least one customer complained to the Florida attorney general’s office that she spent thousands of dollars on tickets she never received.
Friends said McCabe also invested in Iraqi currency. A lawsuit seeking to recover $67,000 calls him a “one-time parishioner turned full-time charlatan.”
Marie Pupke, a decades-long friend and client of McCabe, said she was relieved he turned himself in for his family’s sake. Once in daily contact with McCabe, Pupke said he stopped answering text messages just before he disappeared. She said she’s lost an estimated $1 million that she had invested.
“At least I’m glad that he is acting like a man,” Pupke said. “What Tim has done has mentally tortured me. That he’s found is the best news I’ve ever had.”
The loss of his mother last year may have been what prompted McCabe’s behavior, Pupke guessed. Otherwise, she can’t reconcile the man-on-the-run with the doting husband and father who she knew.
“I think he thought it would be better to see his children from behind bars than to not see them at all,” Pupke said. “I’d like to believe that the man I knew for almost 20 years would have some kind of conscience and take his punishment properly.”
McCabe faces a maximum sentence of up to 30 years each for one count of wire fraud and one count of fraud on a financial institution.
He spoke calmly with his attorney, Robert Gershman, before Thursday’s swift court hearing. No plea was entered or bond set.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Cohen asked for McCabe to be held in custody until trial fearing that he may run again.
Gershman agreed, saying later that he thought it was appropriate considering the circumstances. The next hearing is scheduled for July 22.
Gershman, who said he has known McCabe for a long time, declined to answer questions about McCabe’s whereabouts for more than two months and what may have happened to the money. McCabe was taken to the Palm Beach County jail after the hearing.
“I just want to know the truth,” said former McCabe colleague Shane Santacroce, who ran the attorney’s Broward County office. “When I knew Tim, he was a good man. He obviously screwed up and has to pay the consequences.”
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Wade Millward contributed to this story.