Lakes Region man who bilked dying dad gets lengthy prison sentence
A Center Harbor man was sentenced Thursday to a minimum of 9 1/2 years behind bars for stealing more than $400,000 from his cancer-stricken father, who lay dying in a New York hospital.
Keith Fitzgerald, 52, showed no emotion as he received three 10- to 30-year prison terms to be served concurrently and a fourth to be suspended for 15 years on condition of good behavior after his release.
"These are state-prison crimes. It's not a happy day, for you or your family, but a day that justice has to be served for your father," said Belknap County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler, who cited a litany of aggravating circumstances to support the stiff sentence.
Defense attorney Robert Hunt asked that Fitzgerald be allowed to remain free on the $20,000 bond previously posted pending an appeal to the state Supreme Court, noting his client has appeared at all hearings and complied with all conditions of bail.
Prosecutor Jesse O'Neill of the Attorney General's Office objected. "He was confident he could con his way out of these charges," he said.
Judge Smukler agreed that a $20,000 bail bond was insufficient, and said the guilty verdict and lengthy state prison sentence warrant higher bail of $410,000 cash, which is the amount of restitution ordered in the case.
The defense had asked the court for suspended county jail sentences, arguing that monetary losses were the crux of the case and that Fitzgerald needed to work to pay restitution.
But the prosecution challenged that claim. "He has had four years to pay back and hasn't paid a dime. He doesn't get to play the restitution card now," O'Neill told the judge.
Smukler wasn't buying it either, noting Fitzgerald never made any payments after a probate judge found he had breached his fiduciary duties to his late father, Clifford L. Fitzgerald Jr., and had cost his estate $767,683.
"I'm not holding my breath," the judge said. "It would be like pulling teeth for pennies on the dollar."
Smukler imposed the state's recommended sentences, but did suspend six months of the minimum and five years of the maximum on condition of a good-faith effort to make payments toward $409,980 in restitution.
Additional conditions of the sentence preclude Fitzgerald, who was living in Manhattan and working at Golden Gate Investments, from working in fundraising or finance without the permission of his parole officer. He is also banned from having contact with his siblings.
In seeking the maximum sentence, the prosecutor told the judge that Fitzgerald had exploited his father, who as a result spent the end of his life worrying about the money. He died in 2010 at 79.
"This is not an isolated incident," O'Neill said. "He has exhibited a pattern of fraud and lies throughout his life."
The defendant's older sibling, Clifford Fitzgerald III, gave an emotional statement to the court in which he said that his brother's misdeeds didn't end with their father's death.
When their sister Hope had asked Keith Fitzgerald to provide an accounting of their father's assets that he controlled through a power of attorney, his emailed reply included the statement, "Sue me and you'll get nothing."
"It is a profound tragedy in our family that criminal prosecution was necessary. I strongly suggest a sentence that will protect the citizens of New Hampshire. History has shown that he will say many things, but actions count," Fitzgerald III said.
In a statement issued after the sentencing, Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald said the elderly in New Hampshire face "an increasing rate of financial exploitation and abuse and unfortunately 90 percent of abusers are family members or trusted others."
He asked that anyone who is aware of elder abuse to contact their local police department or the state Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services (1-800-949-0470.)