POST ON POLITICS MARY MCCARTY
McCarty’s got a brand new gig: prison life coach
By Eliot Kleinberg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty addresses members of the Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club in Boca Raton on Wednesday. She said her speaking skills were a little rusty.
BILL INGRAM / THE PALM BEACH POST
Mary McCarty poses for a photograph with Arlene Herson before speaking at the Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club on Wednesday. She now provides “compassionate coaching for incarceration preparedness”
BILL INGRAM / THE PALM BEACH POST
BOCA RATON — Seven years after she left the Palm Beach County Commission a disgraced felon, and four years after she walked out of a Texas prison, Mary McCarty was back in her element Wednesday, addressing a political luncheon club in her old south county stomping grounds.
And she has a new gig: coaching people heading to prison on how to handle the time before, during and after incarceration.
The announcement for McCarty’s talk for the Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club in Boca Raton described her “rise and fall and rise.”
“It’s the first time that I’ve spoke to a group in public” since getting out, McCarty told about 40 people at a seafood restaurant west of Boca Raton. “I’m a little rusty.”
Her brochure for her new business, Mary McCarty Consulting, says she was “completely caught off-guard” by the investigation that sent her and husband Kevin to prison. Kevin, who’s also a former chairman of the South Florida Water Management District Board, was on hand Wednesday as well.
The brochure touts “compassionate coaching for incarceration preparedness” and says the couple has “employed strategies that enabled them to keep their home and credit rating.” What she learned, it said, “will be shared so that your clients can make the most of this life-altering period.”
McCarty recalled a day in 2008, standing with then-state Sen. Jeff Atwater at Palm Beach International Airport to greet visiting President George
W. Bush. A year later, she said, she stood at Miami International Airport, surrounded by armed guards, waiting for a flight to prison.
“I had shackles that were cutting into my ankles. My waist was surrounded by chains and connected to handcuffs. It was a surreal scene,” she said. She recalled thinking, “How did I get here? How did it happen?”
Elected to the Delray Beach City Commission in 1987 at age 32 — one of the city’s youngest leaders ever — and five times to the Palm Beach County Commission starting in 1990, she last was seen publicly walking into a federal courthouse in West Palm Beach in 2009.
She would serve 21 months of a 3½-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to the federal charge of honest services fraud for steering bond-underwriting business to her husband and for accepting free or discounted hotel rooms from a company that she backed to build the planned hotel at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach.
Months earlier, Kevin McCarty had pleaded guilty to felony charges that he failed to report his wife’s crime. He was sentenced to eight months in federal prison and stripped of his licenses to sell securities.
Arriving at the federal lockup, “I felt I had been dropped into a manhole,” McCarty said Wednesday. “Life was going on, and nobody was paying attention to the fact that I existed.”
She recounted that her travails began one day when FBI agents knocked on the door of her home at 6:15 a.m., search warrant in hand.
“It was humiliating and it was frightening,” she said. “At that moment, I knew, ‘Hey. They’re looking at me.’ ”
She said that “I never in a million years thought they were investigating me. In my mind, I never thought I had committed a crime. I was pretty cocky that ‘they’re not going to find anything on me.’ ”
And, she said, “When people get elected and they’re in office a really long time, they start to think the law doesn’t apply to them.”
After the couple served their respective sentences, they opened a management consulting business, Cypress Consulting. And McCarty did make a blip in 2012 when she spoke to the government affairs committee of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce in what some called a “coming-out party,” although it was a closed-door meeting.
McCarty said Wednesday that a June 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling narrowing the legal definition of honest services fraud meant both she and her husband probably wouldn’t have been targeted if it had been in place a few years earlier.
She said later that a person who works in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in West Palm Beach took the couple to lunch and told him they definitely would not have been charged if their actions had occurred after the 2010 ruling. But McCarty would not identify the person.
No one at the U.S. Attorney’s Office could be reached Wednesday to address the claim. But two other former county commissioners convicted of the charge — Warren Newell and Tony Massilotti — lost their legal battles to have their convictions reversed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling changing the meaning of honest services fraud, and Kevin McCarty dropped his legal battle to clear his name not long after a judge ruled against Newell.
Mary McCarty never even tried to file a similar appeal.
Even so, McCarty said Wednesday, laws are too harsh for many offenders, especially first-timers.
“I did something that was not right and I went to prison for it,” she said, but “to make people felons for the rest of their lives, and the collateral consequences that go with it, is a little over the top.” firstname.lastname@example.org