It took some nudging from the judge, but Christina Sanford Gordon finally uttered a quick "I'm sorry" Tuesday for the 30-plus victims of her phony grant-writing scam.
Gordon, 47, appeared for sentencing before Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio on three felony convictions. Her courtroom demeanor was such a mix of self-pity and defiance that the judge went out of her way to verify that Gordon stood by her admissions of guilt.
In March, Gordon pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny for taking more than $200,000 from her victims, scheming to defraud and possession of a forged instrument for producing a fake letter from the state Attorney General's Office to support her scam.
In May, she wrote a letter to the court saying she wanted a new attorney and to withdraw her pleas. But she later changed her mind about that, according to her attorney, Giovanni Genovese.
DiTullio asked Gordon if that was correct and Gordon said, "I just want this over."
Then, turning toward prosecutor Susan Sadinsky from the Attorney General's Office, Gordon added sharply that she decided to stick with her plea "after Ms. Sadinsky threatened to put me away for 15 to life as a persistent (offender) if I didn't take it."
DiTullio, who previously committed to a sentence of 7 1/2 to 15 years on the grand larceny conviction in exchange for the guilty pleas, remarked that being told what kind of sentence Gordon could face should the case go to trial did not constitute a threat.
After Gordon confirmed her decision to take the plea offer, DiTullio then asked if she wished to say anything else before sentencing.
"No," Gordon said.
"You don't wish to say anything?" DiTullio prodded.
"No," Gordon said.
"You don't want to say 'sorry' to your victims?" DiTullio asked.
After a pause Gordon said, "I'm sorry."
Then she added, "You're giving me the max, what do you want me to say?"
DiTullio reminded the mother of six that her sentence was well-earned.
Gordon's criminal history dates to the late 1980s. Her history includes four prior felony convictions and about 30 convictions altogether. Gordon had been in and out of jail for the past 30 years and, when put on probation, she violated it, the judge said.
Within two months of her last release from prison, Gordon was presenting herself to local churches as a grant writer who could obtain money from the state and other sources for the congregations. As it turned out, the churches – including True Bethel Baptist, the congregation of Buffalo Common Council President Darius Pridgen – were victimized twice: first by paying Gordon for work she never did and second by moving forward with capital improvement projects – in the case of Elim Christian Fellowship for $345,000 – with the understanding from Gordon that grants had been awarded and money was forthcoming.
All told, prosecutors say, Gordon pocketed more than $200,000 from churches and community organizations. But when DiTullio asked Gordon what happened to the money, Gordon said only that she hadn't kept it all. (Prosecutors reported that she used it for cruises, jewelry, clothes and other items). Nevertheless, the Attorney General's Office froze Gordon's assets after her arrest and filed a suit attempting to recover funds for restitution.
"From what I see today, you're ticked off," the judge said to Gordon. "How do you think your victims feel?"
After affirming the sentence of 7 1/2 to 15 years for the grand larceny and two to four years on each of the other convictions, to run concurrently, DiTullio also denied Gordon's request to be returned to the Erie County Holding Center while awaiting assignment to state prison.
Gordon claimed that she was threatened and uncomfortable in the Alden Correctional Facility, where, she told the judge, officers made rude comments to her about her failed scams in front of other inmates.
The judge said that, since she wasn't in any physical danger, Gordon could stay put.
"You've hurt a lot of people," DiTullio told Gordon. "I don't have a lot of sympathy."