Ex-medical group CEO sentenced to 10 years for stealing $3 million to fund lavish lifestyle
WEST PALM BEACH — From the time of her arrest in the one of the largest known employee thefts in Palm Beach County, Terry Jean Kohlman and her defense attorney have said she would acknowledge her thievery of millions and face the consequences.
On Monday, the 55-year-old found out just what that would be.
With the doctors from the Palm Beach Medical Group where she worked calling for the maximum 30 years in prison, with a prosecutor asking for least 20 years, and her defense attorney asking for house arrest while outlining Kohlman's many mental afflictions and the lack of available care in prison, a judge parsed it all on the spot and ruled: 10 years in prison it would be.
Circuit Judge John Hoy's only comment was "it was a very serious offense."
A sobbing Kohlman - noting that the child molester she married as a teen and was abused by got only three months in prison - was immediately taken into custody.
Prosecutor Preston Mighdoll and Detective R. Scott Utecht of the West Palm Beach Police Department outlined at the sentencing, Kohlman's sophisticated scheme as CEO of the medical firm: writing hundreds of checks to herself, and spending the money on lavish cars, jewelry, vacations and plastic surgery.
Then the medical director of the firm, Dr. Jeffrey Dresner, testified about how competent and educated his longtime employee had seemed, how her expensive lifestyle never set off alarm bells with the staff there, how he never noticed any of the mental problems Kohlman cited after her arrest.
Dr. Dresner quoted playwright Arthur Miller: "Betrayal is the only truth that sticks."
Kohlman, of Delray Beach, took the stand also - a surprise to her after her defense attorney Donny Murrell did tell her ahead of time, not wanting to panic her.
Kohlman, who in reality had completed school through the 9th grade, recounted being married at 16 to the man who later went to prison for molesting children. She spoke of how he locked her in a room for months and wouldn't let her out, and how her stay at the jail upon arrest in this case had triggered all her worse fears.
Kohlman, who has since has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and major depression, spoke of hiding in closets and attempting suicide eight or 10 times - the first time at age 11.
And of her shame at the crime committed. Kohlman pleaded guilty to grant theft over $100,000 - but her theft is estimated to be $3 million.
"I couldn't stop drinking! I couldn't stop stealing!" she cried, cowering it seemed, in the witness stand.
Murrell asked the most pressing question of one of Kohlman's treating doctors who testified - how to square the intelligent, competent woman who managed a medical firm for years with a woman who hides in closets, paralyzed in fear.
She has two sides, answered the doctor; one that achieves and is strong, another that just falls apart.
Outside court, Murrell said he is concerned for her well-being in prison, in light of the active suicidal thoughts she has - that he was expecting a call any minute before the sentencing that she had killed herself.
He explained to a group of Kohlman's supporters present that yes, there can be legal appeals, but the chances there are so very slim.
Betrayal it seems not the only thing that sticks.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer