MANATEE -- A 55-year-old wheelchair-bound man was sentenced to 30 months in prison Tuesday after stealing a man's life savings and forcing him out of retirement.
Phillip Deeb retired in 2005 after a long career as a butcher at Publix, then Sweetbay, and received a retirement amount of $186,000.
Soon after, Deeb met Dennis Cline when buying medical insurance and after a few months, Cline befriended him, pretending to be a financial adviser.
In addition to losing his savings to Cline, Deeb also owes the IRS $20,000 after Cline claimed to file his taxes. He never actually filed the returns.
"This clearly was a significant violation of trust, and also a significant violation of friendship," Manatee County Judge Charles Roberts said. "This was not a situation in which there was one button pressed on a computer and $94,000 was transferred. This was an ongoing systematic course of conduct throughout which you deceived and lied to the Deebs." The defense sought to keep Cline out of prison in hopes of his beginning to pay restitution immediately.
"The law is very clear that the primary purpose of sentencing is punishment, and an important goal at sentencing is restitution, rehabilitation," Roberts said. "The primary purpose is punishment. This to me is a very serious offense, and I think has to be treated accordingly."
In addition to 30 months in prison and 20 years probation, Cline was also ordered to pay $94,441, with monthly payments of $200 in the first six months following his release to be increased to $750 monthly thereafter.
Deeb took the stand to explain the effect the crime had on his life.
"At 76 years old I am forced to continue working up to 40 hours a week cutting meat, with hands that can barely hold a knife, with no retirement in sight," Deeb said. "Since going back to work, I was laid off by Sweetbay when they closed the store I was in, and I have used every penny of my equity in my home to pay for medical bills that have accumulated."
Cline also had some words for the court before Roberts sentenced him.
"You know, I said I was guilty all along, it wasn't something that I wanted to go to trial and drag this on," Cline said. "I want to pay this money back, your honor, and that's what I'm looking forward to and hopefully you grant me time served, sir."
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.