Virginia Beach, Va. - The wife of a Naval Special Warfare sailor used a SEAL charity account as "her own personal slush fund, " paying for private jet charters, limousine rides, in-home daycare, and personal trainers with more than $120,000 in embezzled money.
A judge on Monday sentenced Tammy Mason to one and a half years in prison, exceeding guidelines that called for no jail time. The crime was "bold and brazen" said Virginia Beach Circuit Court Judge Les Lilley. "You stole from a charity that supports our warriors and their families."
Navy SEAL Foundation CEO Robin King testified that Mason often used the charity credit card to buy things that were "100 percent for the benefit of her." From the witness stand, King rattled off a list of Mason's purchases including $23,000 to charter a private jet, a family vacation in Boston with upgraded airfare and limousine rides, a house rental at Lake Tahoe, custom poker chips for her husband, and a $5,000 mattress for her home.
Mason has promoted herself as a model and as an entrepreneur, running a beauty-product business from her Virginia Beach home. She had worked part-time for the foundation about four years, handling accounts payable.
King testified when she confronted Mason about some of the charges, Mason admitted to $6,000 in personal expenses on the foundation's credit card. Over several more meetings, Mason conceded additional personal charges that eventually totaled more than $120,000. King said she and others later found another $49,000 in credit-card charges from Mason that had no benefit to the foundation. The charity's director testified she spent 125 hours poring over the credit-card statements, and spent $10,000 on an accountant to examine the records. King said the theft left her "sick to her stomach" with worry that donors would no longer trust the charity.
Mason told the judge that she apologized to the charity's CEO in a text message.
Her lawyer said Mason has paid back the $120,000 already, and agreed to pay back the rest. Prosecutor Sara Chandler said that repayment came from Mason's parents. She noted that, while the sentencing guidelines called only for probation, Mason needed a stiffer punishment.
"That has to be one of the worst things a person can do," Chandler said. She told the judge Mason stole money that was meant to help wounded Navy SEALs and their families, along with SEAL widows and the children left behind. "She shouldn't be allowed to go home and sleep on her mattress of silver," Chandler said, referring to the $5,000 mattress Mason bought with foundation money.
At times, Chandler appeared angered, saying of Mason's charity-financed personal trainers: "She needed someone to tell her to do push-ups?"
Judge Lilley sat in silence for more than 10 minutes before sentencing Mason to prison. She was handcuffed in the courtroom and led into a holding cell.