WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - A federal judge in Florida ordered Mrs. Florida 2016 to spend a month in jail for stealing her mother’s Social Security checks rather than using the money to pay for nursing home care.
U.S. Magistrate Bruce Reinhart also sentenced Karyn Turk on Thursday to five months of house arrest when she gets out of prison and to perform 100 hours of community service in a nursing home, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Turk, who lives in Highland Beach, must report to prison March 2.
She and her lawyers sought to convince the judge that she’s suffered enough and didn’t deserve prison or house arrest. Attorney David Tarras said that since Turk pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor charge of Social Security fraud, she’s been harassed on social media.
In addition, Turk, who was named champion of the year by teen mentoring group Best Buddies in 2019, has lost her position on various philanthropic groups.
Turk is a conservative media commentator and her attorney told the judge her career is dead without the ability to hob-nob in the community, travel to interview celebrities for YouTube broadcasts and to host fundraisers.
“Her livelihood is based on networking and being a social media commentator,” Tarras said.
She brought a check for $46,000 to court to reimburse the government, the attorney told the judge, adding that should be enough.
But Reinhart disagreed. He said that even though Turk had apparently led an otherwise law-abiding life, her crime was a serious one, and she couldn’t “buy her way out of jail” by writing a check.
“Choices in life have consequences, I’m sorry to tell you,” the judge said. “If you steal from the government, you’re not going to have a reputation as an honest person.”
The judge said that as a social media commentator with a large following, Turk is well-placed to send an important message to others.
“The message I’m sending is: You can’t steal from the government and not go to jail.”
The decision was welcomed by about six employees at the Finnish American Rest Home who cared for Turk’s 83-year-old mother. She suffered from Alzheimer’s and died in July.
“Resident exploitation is a serious crime and I’m glad he recognized that,” Daniel Benson, executive director of the 45-bed home, told the newspaper.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s detective Vaughn Mitchell said Turk used the money from her mother’s Social Security, Veteran’s Administration and pension checks on shopping sprees, dinners and a nanny to watch her children rather than covering $219,000 in nursing home bills.
Some of the expenses could have been covered by Medicare if Turk had filled out the necessary paperwork. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Rabinowitz said Turk refused despite constant requests.
The nursing home went to court to force her to pay. A Palm Beach County circuit court judge ordered Turk in August 2018 to pay $250 a month to defray the costs, but she didn’t do it, Rabinowitz said.
Attorney Guy Fronstin, who also represents Turk, said they plan to appeal the decision and ask that Turk not be required to report to prison until the appeal is decided.
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