Carl Merande Ashton, was found guilty as charged of Second Degree Grand Theft following a trial in Lee County. Assistant State Attorney James D. Miller, lead prosecutor of our Economic Crimes Unit, handled the case. The defendant was remanded into custody and sentencing has been set for June 11th. Ashton faces up to 15 years in prison.
This case involved the defendant being hired by the victim to do her business taxes but he ended up stealing more than $30,000. As with many of our cases, there was a lot of work done within the State Attorney’s Office to get this case ready for prosecution. This case provides an example of the anatomy of a white collar crime case.
In 2009 the victim, a career military wife, had been in the process of divorcing her husband, a military contractor. She had raised her two children, who had left home to join the military. She bought a flower shop on U.S. 41 in Fort Myers, “Fort Myers Express Floral” from a friend at church. She needed someone to do all the business taxes, so she hired the defendant.
Business was good and the victim was working seven days a week, but she was not making any money. She asked her ex-husband to look at the financial books but neither of them was getting any answers from Ashton. The victim’s ex-husband hired a local accountant to review the finances and he discovered the victim was being double taxed.
Ashton had duplicated Medicare and social security taxes from the payroll and was pocketing the proceeds. After being charged the defendant produced, through his attorney, over 80,000 documents. In those documents were contracts Ashton claimed were signed by the victim to pay him for another obligation as well as a shareholder estimate. When shown the documents the victim claimed it was her signature and initials but that she had never signed the documents, and the prosecution team believed her.
The circumstances of the case were reviewed by Chief Assistant State Attorney Amira Fox who authorized State Attorney’s Office Investigator Robert Nichols to assist in the investigation. Investigator Nichols received a search warrant for the defendant’s Clay County home and discovered the victim’s signature on blank pages. State Attorney’s Office Audio/Visual Specialist Leandro Navarro, who testified as an expert in redacting documents, found that the defendant had the tools necessary for creating fake documents on his computer.
Our office contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement documents section which found the signatures and initials on the contracts were copies. During the trial Ashton was also shown to have a fake degree.
Restitution of the stolen money will be addressed at sentencing. We want to thank our Economic Crimes Unit for their hard work on this case.
State Attorney’s Office