A 38-year-old Rosedale woman who falsely claimed she was dying of cancer, and who a prosecutor said "ripped off person after person" to pay for nonexistent treatments, was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison by a judge who called her a "professional thief."
Dina Perouty Leone, a former real estate agent whose license was revoked in 2007 for unrelated offenses, was ordered to pay restitution of $14,090 to two of her victims, each of whom had lost a parent to cancer before they went to Leone's aid.
Leone, who had astonished investigators with her lack of remorse and combative nature when they first interviewed her last year, was contrite and tearful Thursday before the judge, and said she had found religion.
"I didn't know I had a problem until this came up," Leone said. "It's not easy for me because I don't know right from wrong all the time. I just need a chance."
She apologized to her children — a son and a stepdaughter, both teenagers — and to her victims, specifically Jennifer Lynch, who had given her about $4,000 and who was sitting a few feet away. "Jen, I'm very sorry that I hurt you," Leone said. "I really am."
Lynch, whose mother died of cancer in 1983, told the court that she had provided Leone with affection, advice and money. Leone, she said, "played on my emotions for her own gain."
In handing down the 15-year term on a felony-theft charge — the maximum sentence — Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II referred to the defendant's previous convictions, including for petty theft in 1996, writing bad checks in 2004 and a series of mortgage scams in Carroll County that began about 2002, for which she was given a suspended sentence.
"That did absolutely nothing to deter you from going out and victimizing people again," Turnbull said. "I have absolutely no sympathy for you. In my opinion, you're a professional thief."
Upon hearing the terms of her sentence, Leone, who had been standing, fell backward into a chair, her mouth open in surprise. She then looked into the courtroom toward her father, Neal Perouty, tears welling again in her eyes. After the hearing, she was led away.
Her lawyer, John M. Hassett, had told the court earlier that "no rational person would ever conduct themselves this way," and said his client had "substantial psychological issues" that resulted in depression, alcohol abuse, violations of law, lack of remorse and behavior such as her "effort to replicate being on chemotherapy by shaving her head."
Hassett asked that his client be evaluated at the Patuxent Institute, a maximum-security correctional facility that focuses on psychotherapeutic care, and he said later that the judge had agreed to recommend it.
"We expected a severe penalty and are thankful that Judge Turnbull has provided the opportunity for Dina to receive the psychiatric treatment she needs," Hassett wrote in an e-mail. "If accepted, the program may grant parole at their discretion after a finding that the individual has progressed with treatment."
Leone's conviction in the Baltimore County case has triggered a probation violation in the Carroll County mortgage scam, meaning that she could be ordered to serve the full 10-year term in that case in addition to the time she received Thursday in Towson. Leone had served 49 days of the prior sentence.
Assistant State's Attorney Adam D. Lippe said that for months, Leone not only failed to admit responsibility for her actions but turned on the people whose trust she had violated, many of them old school friends from Dundalk and Sparrows Point, demanding that they be arrested for defaming her. "She becomes a predator," Lippe said, "and she doesn't care."
Vicky Squires, a breast-cancer survivor, said Leone's conduct should not deter anyone willing to help the truly sick. "What she did to me and others is horrible," Squires said. "However, it does not change who I am. I would still help anyone out that claimed to have cancer."
Another of Leone's targets, Jennifer R. Lasek, wife of the competitive skateboarder Bucky Lasek, gave her about $10,000 and paid for a trip for Leone and her family to the San Diego Zoo and Disneyland, the latter a "dying wish" of Leone's.
"Cancer hit home for me," Lasek, whose father died in 2007 of colon cancer, wrote in a letter to the court. "So when someone from my hometown — a schoolmate — said they were suffering the same fate, I wanted to help. I wanted to help her for my dad."
Leone, she wrote, "had a harrowing tale of needing money for treatment, the extreme pain she was in, how she wanted to do nice things for her children so they would have fond last memories of their mother before she passed." In the end, she said, it was all "scheming, manipulation and lies."