The first of about 50 people who have pleaded guilty in connection with a three-year federal racketeering investigation involving the Irish Travelers of Murphy Village is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Columbia.
Angela Askew, a tax preparer who lives in Augusta, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but plans to ask the judge to grant her home detention instead of incarceration, according to documents filed with the court by her lawyer, J. Pete Theodocion of Augusta.
It has been almost a year since the original 22 defendants, charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, made plea agreements with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to lesser charges of conspiracy to racketeer.
The original indictment, issued in August 2016, alleged that the defendants participated in a number of schemes to fraudulently obtain life insurance benefits, food stamps and Medicaid funding, and committed fraud involving automobile financing. They all face the same sentence as Askew.
Those plea agreements required the defendants to help the U.S. Attorney’s Office identify all victims, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May said cooperation would be taken into account in sentencing.
In November, a second group of 24 defendants agreed to plead guilty to criminal conspiracy, after receiving “target letters,” May said. Because they “took responsibility” and didn’t fight the charges, the government charged them with conspiracy rather than racketeering, he said. They face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines each.
The original indictment specifically accused Askew of faxing fraudulent documents to a local car dealership as part of the conspiracy.
A sentencing brief filed by Theodocion says Askew’s pre-sentencing report indicates recommended sentencing guidelines in the 27- to 33-month range — just under three years.
The brief asks for home detention because Askew suffers from “a variety of physical ailments, some of which would make incarceration both difficult for her and more expensive for the government.”
It lists high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, knee and back pain and a cyst on her lower spine, along with the medications she takes for each.
“Askew lives with daily pain and discomfort and submits that prison life would be harder on her than it is on the typical inmate,” the brief says
Askew, who is not an Irish Traveler, was born in Augusta and graduated from One Way Christian School in Martinez in 1984, according to the brief. She started working a series of jobs at restaurants in high school, including Wife Saver, Pizza Hut in North Augusta, the Green Jacket, Cracker Barrel and the Evans Diner.
She ran her own business, Alex’s Sports Bar in Augusta, from 2001 until about 2006, according to the sentencing brief. After it closed, she was a commercial truck driver, then opened A’s Sports Bar on Peach Orchard Road in Augusta, which closed in 2017.
In 2008, she began Alex’s Financial Services, doing bookkeeping and tax work, according to the brief.
Askew and her mother, Brenda Palmer, live next to each other in two mobile homes on a single lot in Augusta, the brief says. Palmer also has health problems and “Askew lives in constant contact with her mother, as the two are the only real family each other has,” according to the brief. “Ms. Palmer relies on her daughter for everything and to lose her to imprisonment would be devastating to her.”
The brief also includes five letters of support written by friends of Askew, noting that she has 10 rescued dogs and regularly provides food to “those in need.”
Two of them plan to attend Askew’s sentencing, the brief says, as will her mother, “although she is unsure as to whether she will be able to control her emotions and be able to speak on her daughter’s behalf.”