ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Superior Court judge has rejected a plea agreement that would have put a former Surry man behind bars for 18 months for allegedly stealing more than half a million dollars from investors in his company.
Eric S. Murphy Jr., 48, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two felony counts of theft after the state Attorney General’s Office and his defense attorney, Jeff Toothaker, agreed on a recommended sentence of four years with all but 18 months suspended. As part of the recommended sentence, Murphy also would have been ordered to serve three years of probation after being released and to pay $570,000 in restitution.
Justice Kevin Cuddy, presiding in Hancock County Superior Court, rejected that recommendation Monday. As a result, Murphy was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, which means the case will proceed toward trial.
Because of the amount of evidence in the case, the trial is expected to last about 10 days to two weeks, according to the judge. He said the trial, if another plea agreement is not reached, likely would take place this summer or fall.
Murphy is accused of stealing money from investors in his former home loan business by spending it on personal and business expenses instead of using it to fund specific mortgage loans. Since the allegations arose and his license was revoked, Murphy has been living in South Carolina, according to Toothaker.
Cuddy did not indicate why he would not accept the recommended sentence.
“It is a calculated level of conduct over time,” the judge said, suggesting that Murphy’s behavior was not a momentary lapse in judgment.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Colleran, the prosecutor handling the case, said after Monday’s proceeding that he respects Cuddy’s decision and plans to prepare for trial.
Toothaker said that Cuddy’s decision wasn’t totally unexpected, but he had hoped the judge would accept the recommended sentence. If the case does proceed to trial, the defense attorney said, he might file for a change in venue because of the amount of pretrial publicity the case has received.
Cyndee Carroll of Surry was one of about 13 victims or their relatives who attended Monday’s proceeding. She said that she doesn’t think 18 months behind bars would have been enough for Murphy, who she claims left her $800,000 in debt after he went into business with her. When the two started Breezy Maples Farm eques-trian center on Route 1 in Ellsworth, Murphy was to handle the finances and Carroll was responsible for the horses and horse programs, she said.
“He absolutely destroyed my credit,” Carroll said. “He led me to believe he paid for everything. I lost my business. I lost my house.”
The 137-acre property near the Big Chicken Barn has been assessed for tax purposes by the city of Ellsworth as having a value of $516,000. Construction of a $260,000 barn and attached 31-stall stables on the property in 2007 doubled the parcel’s value, according to information posted on the city’s online assessing database. The property is listed for sale for $650,000.
Five other people, including Murphy’s estranged wife and stepson, also addressed the court Monday. During the statements, victims called Murphy a thief, a sneak, a liar and a coward. All said they were duped by Murphy.
“I learned he was willing to steal from his own wife and leave me nothing,” Catherine Aranda, who said she is in the process of divorcing Murphy, told Cuddy. “He cares not for the profound devastation he caused everyone in this room.”
When the judge asked Murphy whether he wanted to address the court, the defendant simply shook his head “no.”