While Vicki Dwyer Middlemas pleaded guility to five counts, she still disputes the remaining 19 counts.
PANAMA CITY — The former director of Panama City’s Visual Arts Center (VAC) has admitted to a portion of the two dozen federal fraud charges she accrued while overseeing the semi-governmental agency’s finances.
Vicki Dwyer Middlemas, 48, pleaded guilty Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Northwest Florida to four counts of wire fraud and one count of federal tax fraud in the case. She faced 24 federal criminal charges for allegedly using VAC funds 20 times for personal items and filing fraudulent tax returns over four years to continue receiving funding from Panama City for the agency. Middlemas could face up to 20 years on each of the four counts of wire fraud she has admitted to, three years in federal prison for the count of tax fraud and up to $1.1 million in fines.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle scheduled her sentence hearing for 9 a.m. Oct. 25 in Panama City’s federal courthouse.
Middlemas seemed composed and remorseful Thursday during the change of plea hearing. However, at times in the hearing, Middlemas also seemed to diminish the severity of her crimes.
As Hinkle asked questions about whether she was in agreement with pleading guilty in the case, Middlemas began to say she did not agree with the prosecution’s version of events. Her attorney, Timothy Jansen, interrupted before she could go further and possibly have Hinkle reject her guilty plea.
“There are parts we dispute in the remaining counts,” Jansen told the court. “We do not disagree with the five counts.”
Most of the wire fraud counts Middlemas pleaded guilty to involved three altered invoices to Anderson Construction for a remodeling project on the VAC building. Middlemas would receive the invoices from the construction company, increase them before sending the invoices to city and pocket what was left of the money as a “bonus” or “salary,” according to the U.S. attorney’s charges.
As Hinkle asked about the altered invoices, Middlemas indicated she had used the money mostly to conduct VAC business.
“I deposited the money, and paid the girls,” she said, referring to employees of the VAC. “Also I paid my salary.”
A total amount for the overages was not clear.
Middlemas also will be admitting to using city funds of $336 to pay her family’s cellphone bill. She will have to pay restitution to the city for those funds. However, the remaining charges of defrauding the city of about $18,000 for a “paint class,” “paint class fundraiser” and “preview party” and more than $11,000 for handbags, clothing, rugs and “flash” tattoos are expected to be dismissed at her sentencing.
At that time, Middlemas also will be sentenced for one out of four counts of federal tax fraud. She filed an individual income tax form in 2014 claiming only $40,000 in “other income” when the amount was much higher. Middlemas again seemed to downplay her culpability.
“We weren’t sure of the income at all,” she told the court. “All we put down was $40,000 and that was incorrect.”
Although she faces a combined total of up to 83 years in federal prison, Middlemas’ attorney said he plans to introduce evidence at the sentence hearing to mitigate the punishment.