The swindler and victim start anew
“The Inside Job” originally appeared September 17, 2006
There have been embezzlement cases with bigger dollar amounts. But surely never has so much stolen money been spent on such outlandish junk than in the case of bookkeeper Angela Platt.
In my 2006 story, I described Platt’s haul as “the kind of bizarre crap you’d expect to find if you could journey through Christopher Walken’s brain.” A 20-foot-tall smoke-spewing animatronic dragon called “The Slayer.” A hot rod fashioned into a green monster with teeth the size of fence pickets. A life-size ceramic statue of a cigar-chomping Al Capone. Six giant talking trees like the ones in The Wizard of Oz, at three grand a pop.
Platt and her husband, Kevin, financed these and more conventional purchases, such as houses, with the millions she had managed to steal over six years from her boss, John Ferreira, a contractor and construction materials supplier in southeastern Massachusetts.
But, as with Al Capone, the feds eventually caught up with Angela Platt. Four months after the Globe Magazine story, federal prosecutors charged her with embezzling $6.9 million. A month later, as part of a deal, she pleaded guilty to a single count of interstate transportation of stolen property. After all the allegations against her were read aloud in court, the judge asked her if she still wanted to plead guilty.
“Yes, your honor,” she told the judge.
“Because I did those things.”
She was sentenced to four years in prison. Four years for seven million. Several of Ferreira’s friends told him the same thing when they heard the sentence: “I guess it pays to steal.” But Ferreira didn’t join the chorus. He agreed that the sentence seemed a bit light, but he was grateful Platt had been caught. And he was relieved that, thanks in part to some help from friendly law enforcement officials, he had managed to take ownership of many of her purchases before she had frittered them away.
As part of the plea deal in the federal criminal case, Platt was ordered to pay Ferreira $4.48 million, plus interest, in restitution -- her total take, minus the value of the purchases she had already turned over to him. In an earlier civil case, a state court judge in Rhode Island had ordered Angela and Kevin to repay Ferreira $16 million, or double the damages he had claimed. Unless Platt, now 46, wins the lottery someday, it’s highly unlikely she will ever repay anything close to the millions the courts say she owes. Ferreira now receives a check from her for about $22 a month.
Ferreira was upset that Platt’s husband hadn’t also been charged criminally, saying he believed Kevin “was the driving force behind their crazy spending spree.” But Ferreira understood that the feds had to go after the person who had actually siphoned the cash and cut the checks. And that person was Angela, his seemingly unassuming, hard-working, heavyset bookkeeper in the discount-rack outfits.
After Platt went to prison, Ferreira busied himself rebuilding his business and finding buyers for all the crazy purchases Angela and Kevin had made with his money. Using
Platt’s nicest purchase had been the four-bedroom log “cabin” sitting on a 104-acre spread in West Haven, Vermont, which sported floors of African hardwood and marble, a heated swimming pool, and a dazzling video arcade. Although Ferreira and his wife, Tricia, and their friends enjoyed using the Vermont place for occasional weekend getaways, he decided to unload it as well. But an extravagant $1.5 million vacation home in a remote farming town wasn’t an easy sell during a down real estate market. Neighbor Cynthia Renninger says there was a rumor on the block that Whoopi Goldberg was considering the place. Ferreira says he had an interested buyer from Georgia. One Sunday morning a few days after New Year’s Day 2009, a neighbor came running into Renninger’s house saying that the cabin was on fire. Standing outside with the fire chief, Renninger used her cellphone to call one of Ferreira’s friends who occasionally used the place, and he called Ferreira, who then called her. Ferreira asked Renninger if he should drive up. Overhearing that and looking at the fast-moving blaze, the fire chief said, “There’s not a thing you can do except call your insurance company.” When it was over, all that was left standing were a couple of the walls of the garage.
Last summer, Ferreira received a letter from the Federal Bureau of Prisons informing him that Platt would not be serving her full four years. Instead, she would be transferred to a halfway house in November, where she would spend several months before being released this April. “I was a little disheartened,” Ferreira says. “You like to think that the system works.”
Richard Shamro, a unit manager at the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, where Platt was being held, wrote the letter. He says prison officials were just following federal statutes in releasing her early. She had earned “good conduct time” for avoiding disciplinary infractions, and she had successfully completed a 500-hour treatment program for substance abuse. (Platt had told investigators she had a drinking problem.)
These days, Platt is living in a shared room in a Catholic Social Services halfway house in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She is required to do chores and hold a paying job and is allowed to leave for short errands, religious services, and work. It took her about two months to find her job in telemarketing. Stephen Nocilla, the executive director of Catholic Social Services, blamed the time lag partly on the tough economy. “It’s also complicated, I’m sure, by her past,” he says.
Through the halfway house staff, Angela Platt declined to comment for this story. Kevin Platt did not return a message left for him at the Pennsylvania home where he is believed to be living.
Ferreira, 51, says he’s not losing any sleep over the saga. “My wife still gets sick about it,” he says. “She’s very hurt about what Angela did.” While he wishes it never happened, he says, “we made the best of it, and we had some fun along the way.” He and his wife go out to dinner once a week, and before they sold the fleet of eccentric vehicles the Platts had bought, the Ferreiras would drive a different one to a restaurant every Friday night.
While he’s not expecting to ever see any big restitution checks from Platt, he is still hoping to hit pay dirt with a movie based on the story. He’s reviewed four scripts or treatments so far but says none has fully captured what really happened. In one script, Angela and Kevin’s daughter goes on to win American Idol. “These Hollywood guys can get crazy,” Ferreira says. “I said no to that. These people did something bad. Let’s not make everything work out great for them in the end.”
Otherwise, things have mostly returned to normal for Ferreira. Six months after the fire, he sold the 104 acres in Vermont to a beef farmer in town. Where the showpiece cabin once stood, cattle now roam. Renninger, the neighbor, had an artist friend paint a sign, which she gave to the beef farmer and which now hangs on the front gate to the property. It reads: “Embezzlement Acres.”
E-mail Neil Swidey at email@example.com.