Timothy McCabe, a one-time fugitive real estate attorney who stole $6 million from 73 clients, asked a federal judge to limit his prison sentence to 35 months.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen Cohen told the court McCabe’s crimes and conduct do not merit a downward departure and he should get 10 to 12.6 years.

McCabe was sentenced Wednesday to five years by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp in West Palm Beach. He pleaded guilty Oct. 10 to five counts for stealing from his former Lake Worth firm’s trust accounts.

McCabe, 56, offered the court a penitent three-page letter admitting he lost his moral compass and became a thief. The letter was in parts a reiteration of a letter he sent to his 15-year-old daughter, Amanda, when he missed her confirmation at St. Jude’s Catholic Church because of his incarceration.

“I became a coward. When I was faced with the prospect of being financially ruined, I became a thief. At a time when I should have had courage in my life, I did not. I should have been brave. I should have let go of the real estate, let go of the firm and started over,” McCabe said.

His troubles began with the collapse of the real estate market in which he was heavily invested. He said his properties collapsed in value from $6 million to $1 million. Similarly, his real estate practice went from revenues of $100,000 per month to less than a tenth of that.

McCabe said he had 18 employees, and all were the sole or primary breadwinners in their family. Terrified of failure, he depleted his savings to keep the business afloat. When the savings ran out, he resorted to exploiting the trust of his clients, many of whom were longtime friends.

Dr. William Gruss, an internist in Boca Raton, was one of McCabe’s closest friends. He wrote to the court to express his “devastation, anger and utter disgust.”

Their wives had been friends for 12 years, and Gruss’s daughter often slept over with McCabe’s oldest daughter, Gruss said.

“Tim, you often called my daughter ‘our fourth daughter,’ ” Gruss said.

Gruss’s office-condo was his main asset. McCabe handled the sale, and Gruss lost $243,707. In addition, he was left with no money to pay the capital gains tax on the property sale.

Gruss, who has multiple sclerosis, emphasized: “My problems were my problems. I did not steal money from my friends. Tim, I would never financially deceive or endanger anyone the way you did.”

‘Hubris’ At Work

McCabe closed his letter by asking the court for the opportunity to pay restitution, the implication being he would have the liberty to work.

Cohen said the expertise in real estate law and transactions—that McCabe claims should cut him a break—are the areas he used to commit crimes.

“The government contends that only hubris allows making an argument that such expertise and experience gained from his long employment and professional work history … should be credited to reduce his potential sentence,” she wrote Friday in the government’s response to the presentence report.

McCabe mysteriously disappeared last April, leaving behind cryptic notes to his wife and law partner, Steve Samiljan. The Florida Bar was called in to investigate and confirmed McCabe had wiped out the firm’s trust account, but the exact amount wasn’t known at the time.

The Florida Supreme Court issued an emergency suspension of his law license and later disbarred him. McCabe hid for 2½ months before turning himself in the day after he was charged.

In McCabe’s letter, he emphasized he was not living lavishly while a fugitive, nor was that ever his intent. The letter also offered insight into why McCabe finally stopped stealing.

“The week that I left, I was scheduled to receive a $10 million wire. It would have resulted in more stolen money if I had accepted the wire. I would have simply continued the madness, and I wanted to stop because what I was doing was wrong,” he wrote.

Cohen’s response to McCabe’s request for a downward departure put the final accounting in dollars and cents.

“The government contends that the loss applicable to the current case is $6,145,972.52. This loss was arrived at by requesting documentation from the various victims suffering losses as a result of defendant’s theft of funds from his escrow accounts,” she wrote.