‘Dangerous’ con artist sentenced for stealing nearly $1M from Columbus business

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Smaller businesses are hit particularly hard when it comes to wire fraud.
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Smaller businesses are hit particularly hard when it comes to wire fraud.

The prosecutor compared Dorita Clay to the science-fiction movie robot in “The Terminator.”

“There is a meanness about her that I’ve never encountered in another defendant,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Crawford Seals said of the Selma, Alabama, woman convicted of duping Grand Reserve owner Steve Corbett’s stepmother into stealing almost $1 million from the business.

The stepmother served as chief financial officer of the apartment complex.

Clay was sentenced on 22 felony counts in federal court Thursday. A jury previously found the 51-year-old guilty a conspiracy charge and 21 counts of wire fraud.

Sentencing guidelines called for a range of 70 to 87 months in prison. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Crawford Seals wanted her to serve more time than that.

“I believe the defendant is more of a danger,” Seals said, noting Clay had legal troubles back home, as well, where she was arrested under the name Dorita Lynn West. Authorities who have dealt with her there called her the “most mischievous, mean person they have ever dealt with,” Seals said.

Clay’s ability to “lie without blinking” alarmed them, he said: “They felt she was incredible.”

Land sentenced Clay to 96 months in prison, or eight years, and ordered her also to repay $947,718. The judge said he gave her more time not because she was a master thief as Seals argued, but because she didn’t take responsibility for her crimes.

Clay said at the sentencing said she and Corbett’s stepmother lost the money while gambling, and she didn’t know the money was stolen.

Seals argued the recommended sentencing range didn’t account for the financial harm Clay caused, conning older women into giving her money that she either gambled away or spent on herself.

Besides persuading Corbett’s stepmother to send her money from the business, Clay also got the stepmother’s personal savings, and swindled the stepmother’s mother as well, Seals said.

“You don’t seem to have any remorse whatsoever for what you did to Mr. Corbett,” Land told Clay. “You’re sad because you got caught.”

‘Vulnerable victims’

Seals said the court also should consider the psychological harm Clay caused: “They thought that at the time, she was their best friend…. She picked vulnerable victims.”

Darlene Corbett, 65, now is serving two years in federal prison for her role in the thefts, though she’d not had even a traffic ticket before she met Clay, Seals said.

“She is like a Terminator,” Seals said of Clay. “She has used this superpower that is just meanness.”

Steve Corbett also spoke Thursday, telling Land how he learned Sept. 28, 2016, that about $1 million had been stolen from his business that runs Grand Reserve apartments in Columbus and in Madison, Alabama.

What followed was an 18-month FBI investigation that led to his stepmother’s arrest, and to Clay’s arrest. “I never knew Ms. Clay,” he said. “I learned a lot about her at the trial.”

He doesn’t expect to recover his losses, he said: “The money’s gone. I don’t expect to get any of it back.”

Frances Bowden, Darlene Corbett’s 80-year-old mother, also spoke, saying Clay took her life savings. Authorities said Clay got about $250,000 from Bowden.

“This woman has taken everything I worked all my life for,” Bowden said. “I can’t see nobody being this cruel and this mean, but she is.”

Then Clay addressed the court.

“I’m just telling you the truth. We gambled,” she said.

“I’m not acting like a Girl Scout here,” she said. “I made a lot of mistakes…. All I’m asking the court is to give me a chance.”

Land asked whether she took responsibility for stealing Steve Corbett’s money.

“At the time, I didn’t know the money was stolen,” she said, claiming she tried to help clear that up after she learned the truth. “All I tried to do was help.”

After hearing from witnesses Thursday, Judge Land said he was not persuaded Clay was “some kind of exceptional thief,” because anyone who steals more than $900,000 is “a deceitful mean-spirited person.”

Clay had been free on bond. Land had U.S. Marshals take her into custody after sentencing.