Victim was elderly client of Asheville law firm

The wife of a Buncombe County district court judge was sentenced on Monday to four months in prison for stealing more than $102,000 from an elderly client of an Asheville law firm.

Susanne Marie Crotty mugshot, dated April 21, 2011, from the Asheville Police Department.

Susanne Marie Crotty, 44, of Arden, pleaded guilty in Buncombe County Superior Court to embezzlement, financial card fraud, obtaining property by false pretense, and writing and using forged checks.

Judge Alan Z. Thornburg sentenced Crotty, the wife of Buncombe County District Court Judge Edwin D. Clontz, to two consecutive 60-day prison sentences followed by four years of supervised probation.

The stolen funds were the property of Ernestine P. Demaree, an elderly client of The Van Winkle Law Firm, for whom Crotty worked for about six years as a legal assistant at The Van Winkle Law Firm. The firm managed Demaree’s assets. According to court records, she used the money to, among other things, buy groceries, meals, pet supplies, clothing, shoes, spa and beauty salon services, lodging, Internet services, gasoline, amusement park tickets, concert tickets and to pay for insurance and utilities.

Thornburg also ordered Crotty to pay $26,460 in restitution to The Van Winkle Firm, which included more than $15,000 in costs the firm incurred related to investigating Crotty. She also must pay $10,000 for a car she agreed to buy from Demaree but never made payments on.

Crotty doesn’t have to repay the full amount because The Van Winkle Law Firm replenished the funds by filing claims with its insurance carriers. Assistant District Attorney Frank C. Patton III said Crotty “in some ways received a significant break” by this.

Crotty’s attorney, Jack W. Stewart Jr., said at the hearing that Crotty separated from The Van Winkle Law Firm on Feb. 28 after they discovered she had been taking their client’s funds. The Van Winkle Law Firm reported to the Asheville Police Department on March 18 that Crotty had embezzled money from the business, according to the incident/investigation report. She was arrested April 21, and a grand jury indicted her on 161 felony counts June 9, according to court documents.

Later, on Sept. 9, Crotty married Clontz, a 47-year-old district court judge in Buncombe County, according to their marriage license filed with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds.

Gov. Bev Perdue appointed Clontz to the bench in April to fill a vacancy created when Judge Sharon Barrett was appointed as a Special Superior Court Judge.

Speaking on behalf of his law firm during Monday’s hearing, Van Winkle attorney Stephen J. Grabenstein said his firm considered Crotty’s actions to be “very serious” and that it had been a “difficult time to work through.”

Grabenstein said the law firm was satisfied with the district attorney’s office’s handling of the case. Neither Demaree nor anyone from her family made a statement during the hearing.

Crotty’s attorney called several character witnesses, including Sara DeLeon. DeLeon said she’d been Crotty’s friend for three years. She said they met when her son played football with Crotty’s late son, Donnie. DeLeon, who works in the senior services division of Mission Hospitals, said she was at the hospital in June when Crotty’s son was brought in by ambulance after suffering injuries during an ATV accident at T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville, where Donnie played football and was a rising junior. As a result of those injuries, 15-year-old Donnie Crotty died July 21.

“She is my best friend,” DeLeon said of Susanne Marie Crotty. When Stewart asked what she thought of Crotty’s guilty plea, DeLeon said, “that’s not the person I know.” She went on to say that the loss of her son had been “devastating” to Crotty.

Michelle Maynor also testified on behalf of Crotty’s character. Maynor, who said she had worked as an office manager at T.C. Roberson and had known Crotty for 17 years, described Crotty as a “friendly, outgoing great mother — a middle-class single mom trying to do the best she can.”

Stewart also introduced a document into the court record showing Crotty had been seeing a mental health therapist since March. He said Crotty “suffered from compulsion,” which he said contributed to her stealing funds from The Van Winkle Law Firm’s client.

“I admit everything I did,” Crotty said during the hearing. “I do think that I have a compulsive problem. Although it appears I didn’t have Mrs. Demaree’s interests at heart, I always maintained a relationship with her and helped take care of her… I’m sorry for what I did.”

Assistant District Attorney Patton said the state acknowledged the tragedy of Crotty’s son’s death but emphasized that all of her criminal activity occurred prior to the accident.

“Mrs. Demaree entrusted her finances to The Van Winkle (Law) Firm, including Ms. Crotty,” Patton said, “and (Crotty) systematically, for more than two years, abused that trust.”

Attempts made Monday to reach Crotty’s husband, Judge Edwin D. Clontz, were not successful.

Related documents

Correction: A previous version of this story did not list the correct number of total charges against Crotty.

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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  1. Ed clontz is a joke to the judicial system not only from personal experience but according to 100 attorney survey rating him at the very bottom in every category. He does what he feels instead of following the law /all with a chip on his shoulder. God help you if you are male in his courtroom and challenge anything that is questionable-he goes personal rogue instead of following law

  2. Clontz was made a Judge after she got caught. And married her just this past September. He obviously lacks good judgement. He denied me and my spouse a restraining order against a guy who threatened to kill us several times and peeped in our windows and took a photo of a female in her PJs. Clontz was hostile to us, the victims and verbally agreeing with statements made by the criminal who proclaimed himself a born again Christian and started quoting prayers and the Bible. The guy was a smooth pathological liar and had Clontz eating out of his hand. Hope I do not have to see Judge Clontz again because I have nothing but contempt for him and his wife. People DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES – people CHOOSE to committ crimes for whatever reason. STealing a piece of cheese because you are hungry is one thing. STealing money form an old lady whilst being “courted” by a 28th circuit judge is another. She needs more jail time and he needs to be removed from the bench.

  3. With all due respect, Jennifer. There is a big difference between a “mistake” and exploiting an elderly, infirmed old lady over a long period of time. Of course she “cared” for her…..she needed to stay in her good graces in order to exploit her for more money.

  4. While the headline is certainly an explosive one, we are more concerned with the subtitle: the elderly victim….

    It appears Susanne Clontz was not charged or sentenced for exploitation of an elder adult. During the last election a candidate for District Attorney was asked when, and how, laws to protect elderly victims from abuse, neglect, and exploitation were enforced. The answer seemed vague at best. To our knowledge, there has never been a case in Buncombe County where exploiting an elderly adult was prosecuted or an additional sentence for that crime considered. The sentence in this case seems less severe than if these funds had been taken from an individual who is NOT also protected by laws against elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

    Here’s the definition from the North Carolina General Statute, Chapter 108A, Article 6, of the NC Adult Protective Services Statute: “Exploitation” means the illegal or improper use of an elder or disabled adult’s resources for another’s profit or advantage. It is a specific offense according to § 14-112.2 of NC General Statutes: Any person who (1.) stands in a position of trust and confidence with an elder adult or (2.) has a business relationship with an elder adult…is guilty of exploitation if that person knowingly uses an elder adult’s funds to benefit someone other than the elder adult. The punishment depends on the value of the assets involved in the exploitation. If the funds involved are greater than $100,000 (as in this case) the offense is a Class F felony.

  5. To Jason H., – if you are referring to my comment and you believe the article indicates that Mrs. Clontz did show compassion for her elderly victim, I respectfully disagree. She states that she continued to maintain a relationship with the victim and ‘help care for her’. I fail to see how that was ever in the best interest of Mrs. Demaree or demonstrates anything more than the classic behavior of a predator, exploiting an elderly victim. Isn’t that how she also maintained free access to the victim’s trust account for a mind-boggling period of time? As to her claim that a compulsion problem made her do it… that seems a more credible explanation for eating too much chocolate or biting your nails… not for repeatedly dipping into an elderly woman’s trust account to buy luxuries for yourself or anyone else.

  6. Jennifer, it’s unfortunate that Mrs. Clontz didn’t show some compassion for her elderly victim, who I believe may have been unwell at the time her funds were being misused for spa treatments and concert tickets. To me your friend Susie sounds more narcissistic than compulsive.

  7. Jennifer, why wouldn’t she stand with the boy driving the ATV? The first news report I read indicated her son unexpectedly stepped in front of the ATV. I don’t understand why you seem to think that the driver of that ATV would need “forgiveness” for the accident or somehow more responsible for preventing it.

  8. To Anita Middleton… I think it is wonderful that you were able to have a drug problem that didn’t cause damage to anyone financially and certainly not emotionally or any other way.
    Susie was obviously not as lucky with her compulsion problem.

    While I certainly don’t condone Susie’s actions I try to keep in mind that we all make mistakes.
    I was there when Susie stood with the boy involved in her sons accident. The compassion and grace that she displayed at such an unimaginable time was inspiring.
    As a mother myself, I doubt I would be able to show such compassion, forgiveness or grace. I take great offence to her reaction to the death of her only child being mocked.
    If we all look into our own glass houses perhaps we would stop slinging stones.
    What comes around goes around. She is doing time and I believe has been full of remorse for quite some time. I hope that the love and understanding she has shown others will also come back to her.

    1. You said a mouthful.No one can judge because we have fell short and no sin is greater than another in GOD’S eyesight. We all have story it is that we just happen to hear hers. She owned up to her flaws and guess what alot of us wont even after we have been caught. She just learn from this and ask GOD to forgive and worry not about what people have say because they talk about you whether its good or bad.

  9. It only goes to show you that who you know means a lot because with 92 charges–mental illness my eye she sure should have gotten more than the time she got for those crimes. Larry Lenny sure did and for one charge that was a lot less severe another woman got 9 months and that is awful! She sure should be required to pay every single dime she stole! If it were me I would have been required but it would not be me because I was raised with better morals than that. I was on drugs and carried large sums of money to the bank for Cooper Travel but I van honestly say I NEVER dipped into one cent of that money for myself! This is why people never learn. Cry me a river but I am sorry I have no sympathy for her. I remember how she stood beside the young man operating the ATV that ran over her son–guess so the pot can’t call the kettle black! And sheriff VanDuncan speaking out about her and her son–back to what I said–guess it does have a lot to do with who you know and then for an Asheville judge to marry her after the fact–omg give me a break! Is she going to be a bookkeeper in prison LMAO? Pardon me but I am getting madder and madder at each thing I think about so I suppose I should stop writing now before I go off half cocked!