BRIDGEPORT — Susan Curtis wanted a higher standard of living.
Curtis had a job managing real estate transactions for Webster Bank and was living in a small Naugatuck apartment a decade ago with her five children.
“She wanted to move on and into a better place for all the kids,” her then-husband, Kevin Caffrey, testified Tuesday in federal court. “She was trying to save money for a new house.”
Curtis turned to crime to get that money.
New House LLC was the name of the shell company Curtis, now 50, and Caffrey created to receive money that Curtis fraudulently acquired from Webster Bank and some of its clients. After Curtis and Caffrey divorced, she continued the scheme with her fourth husband, Gary Stocking, and a new shell company, Equity Realty. The seven-year scam cost the Waterbury-based bank $6.2 million.
To get the money, Curtis submitted false paperwork claiming that the bank owed money to the shell companies for real estate transactions. She also got people, including a bank attorney, to send payments due to the bank to her instead, according to court documents.
Curtis pleaded guilty more than a year ago to bank fraud and filing false tax returns that did not reflect the illegal income. A sentencing hearing began Tuesday, and will continue Thursday before Judge Janet C. Hall. Prosecutors argue that Curtis should face up to 17 and half years in prison. She has been held at a federal prison in Rhode Island for almost a year while awaiting sentencing.
A marshal removed Curtis’s handcuffs Tuesday afternoon after she was led into the courtroom wearing a blue jumpsuit. A thin, bespectacled woman with shoulder-length brown hair pulled back, she sat with her attorneys and spoke little, although she plans Thursday to read a statement.
Curtis was living in an upscale house on the west side of Naugatuck two years ago when she was arrested. She and Stocking also owned a lake house in East Hampton and used the money from their second shell company, Equity Realty, to buy first-class airfares, cruises, high-end cars, two boats, jewelry, artwork and a destination wedding in Ireland, according to court documents.
Stocking was sentenced in September to two years in federal prison for failing to file and pay taxes on the illegal profits.
Referring to Caffrey’s testimony, prosecutors said Tuesday that Curtis used her expertise from Webster Bank to lead and organize the scam.
Caffrey, who lives in Naugatuck, said the fraud was Curtis’s idea and that she asked him to open New House in his name because she did not want the bank to detect that she was tied to it.
“I was skeptical about it, but I never questioned her about it,” Caffrey said. “I just buried my head in the sand.”
Caffrey pleaded guilty in October 2010 to bank fraud and filing a false tax return. He will also be sentenced Thursday.
Asked under oath whether he ever hit Curtis’s son, Caffrey denied it. Her son, Brent Eckman, now 22 and living in Naugatuck, testified that Caffrey had slapped him in the face when he was 13, leading defense attorney M. Hatcher Norris to argue Caffrey’s testimony was not reliable.
Caffrey and Curtis were “coequal partners” in the scheme, Norris said.