Cancer scammer gets six more years for violating probation

A 38-year-old woman who was sent to prison last month for 15 years for defrauding friends by claiming she had terminal cancer was sentenced Tuesday to an additional six years.

Dina Perouty Leone's conviction in Baltimore County in the cancer scam triggered a probation violation in four earlier cases in Carroll County, where she had been found guilty in a series of mortgage frauds and bad-check cases several years ago. In most of those cases, she was given suspended sentences, which were turned into hard time at Tuesday's hearing. The term will run consecutively to the sentence imposed last month.

"I am sorry," a tearful Leone, shackled and handcuffed and almost dwarfed by a blue prison jacket many times her size, told Carroll County Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway. "I do recognize that I have a problem."

She said she has "two beautiful children who need me," and asked the judge that he recommend she be sent to the Patuxent Institution — a maximum-security correctional facility that focuses on psychotherapeutic care — "so that I can't hurt people anymore."

Galloway acceded to that request, as had the judge in the Baltimore County case. Neal Perouty, Leone's father, said evaluators from Patuxent had visited his daughter at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup a few days ago and told her they could admit her to Patuxent. That facility has its own parole system and could keep her there years beyond her sentences if she does not show psychological improvement.

"If you don't admit you've got a problem and work with them, you're there forever," her father said in an interview during a break in Tuesday's proceedings. "It's quite obvious she's not right. No rational, clear-thinking individual would do things like that. She doesn't look at things the way we do, realistically. You'll talk to her and she'll come up with answer that you can't even believe. Once she convinced herself that she had cancer, she convinced everyone else."

Perouty, a retired steelworker from Sparrows Point who has been divorced from Leone's mother for more than two decades, said that his family had tried to have Leone committed to a psychiatric facility about 18 years ago, "but her mother intervened" and the plan was thwarted.

Jennifer L. Darby, a senior assistant state's attorney, said that, despite the defense's contention that Leone suffers from mental-health problems, she is "very intelligent" and "manipulative," a combination Darby described as "very dangerous." She told the judge that after working at two law firms in Westminster, mostly as a secretary and receptionist, Leone had enough of a grasp of legal matters that she could credibly pose as someone who could help homeowners save their homes from foreclosure. Instead, Darby said, she pocketed their money.

In a case for which Leone received a suspended 10-year sentence, she was convicted in 2006 of taking $11,500 from a Sykesville woman, Elizabeth Zentz. In total, Leone had been ordered in the Carroll County cases to repay $15,778 to various victims, and the judge was told Tuesday that she had so far paid $8,900 with the help of her father, who put up his home as collateral.

Galloway said that Leone's crimes were "very cold, very calculated" and "required a lot of planning." The judge said those acts "involved taking advantage of people who didn't deserve being taken advantage of."

As a result, Galloway said, "I do think there's a penalty to be paid." He gave the defendant a six-year term, meaning she faces 21 years of incarceration. Galloway rendered a civil judgment for the rest of the money Leone owes as restitution, enabling her creditors to go after her in civil proceedings.

John M. Hassett, Leone's lawyer, said after the hearing that the judge's sentence was "thoughtful," given that he had refrained from handing down the full term of almost 10 years that he was legally entitled to impose.

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