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Ex-Water Mill radio manager sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to fraud

Long Island Radio Broadcasting in Water Mill on

Long Island Radio Broadcasting in Water Mill on Friday.

The former manager of an East End-based radio station group was sentenced Friday to 15 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $302,585.01 in restitution for using a company credit card without authorization to pay for personal luxuries such as boat maintenance and a Caribbean vacation.

Stephanie McNamara Bitis, 58, of Sag Harbor, who served as the general manager of the Water Mill-based Long Island Radio Broadcasting LLC from 2015 until 2017, apologized — tearfully at one point — in a statement to the court before sentencing. Bitis was also sentenced to one year of supervised release.

"Because of the tremendous mistake I made, 58 years of any good I've done has been totally erased and this defines me, your honor," Bitis said. "I'm sorry we're all here. I apologize for the time and expense of everyone involved."

Bitis, who pleaded guilty in November 2020 to access device fraud as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, on Friday paid $125,000 of the restitution — $52,585.01 to Long Island Radio Broadcasting and $72,414.99 to Granite State Insurance Company, which had paid a claim related to Bitis' theft to the broadcaster. Bitis made the payment by mortgaging her home. The radio company owns WEHM / 92.9/96.9 FM, WBAZ /102.5 FM and WBEA / "The Beach" 101.7 FM.

Bitis, a former member of the Sag Harbor school board, decried the public ridicule she's received in her small town since the news of her conduct was made public. She told the judge she experienced tremendous "embarrassment, guilt and remorse," and a prison sentence would mean she'd lose her job and her two children would have to drop out of college.

"In the court of public opinion, it's a life sentence," said Bitis.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Bagnuola said while Bitis had moved quickly to take responsibility by pleading guilty to an information and waiving indictment — he argued for a sentence within the 12 to 18 month in prison stipulated in the plea agreement, saying there was a need for deterrence. Bitis, who was paid $150,000 annually while employed by the broadcaster, had used the company credit card to fund a family trip to Aruba, boat maintenance and orthodontist visits, prosecutors have said.

U.S. District Court Gary R. Brown said while he had received several letters reflecting "strong community and family support" for Bitis — including from her current employer — her crime was of a "significant magnitude" and the stolen funds had been used for "extravagant luxuries."

Brown said one of the letters had called Bitis' conduct "a mistake," but the judge dismissed that characterization.

"This was nothing of the sort," said Brown. "It was an intentional, brazen and foolhardy manifestation of greed."

Brown noted that Bitis "committed virtually the same crime" while working for a previous employer in 2014. Brown said Bitis had embezzelled $88,000 from that employer but it was "privately settled without criminal consequence."

Bitis’ attorney, Thomas Kenniff, had argued his client, who he said is the "sole breadwinner" for her family, should receive probation, citing her many years of good works in the community.

"This situation, while awful, does really not define the totality of her personality or define her," said Kenniff.

Kenniff said Bitis, who turns 59 on Monday, had a heart attack after her arrest and suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Further, Kenniff said, she has already "suffered a tremendous amount of shame, public shaming" in her community. Kenniff added that Bitis had been "mortgaged to the eyeballs" to make her initial restitution payment and prison time would negatively impact her ability to pay the remainder.

Lauren Stone, owner of the radio company and WEHM host, attended the sentencing by phone but did not comment.

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