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Dad: Daughter's jail stint 'a blessing'

Felicia Smith and her father, Michael, pictured before

Felicia Smith and her father, Michael, pictured before her high school prom. Felicia Smith, 19, was sentenced Feb. 23 in Suffolk County Court to 8 years in prison for her role in a string of hate crime robberies. Credit: Handout

After watching his daughter, Felicia, get sentenced Wedneday to 8 years in prison for taking part in a series of robberies, Michael Smith said her arrest last year was "a blessing."

Authorities said Felicia Smith, 19, of Selden, was part of a group that targeted Latinos because they believed Hispanics were easy victims. Smith said his daughter committed the robberies to finance her drug use.

Felicia Smith has been in the Suffolk County jail since her arrest in March, and during that time she has stopped using drugs for the first time in about five years, her father said.

"She's been sober since she's in here," Smith, also of Selden, told reporters after his daughter was sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice C. Randall Hinrichs in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead. "I can't remember when she's been so clearheaded.

"This was a blessing," he said.

Prosecutors said Felicia Smith was part of a group of six people who beat, threatened and robbed nine men, eight of whom were Hispanic, in Centereach, Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station from December 2009 to March. The ninth victim was mistaken for a Latino, authorities said. Smith and an accomplice, Sean Allen, 20, of Middle Island, told police they chose Latinos because they believed they would not call police if they were in the United States illegally.

Smith pleaded guilty last month to 30 counts of robbery, assault and other offenses, including hate crimes. Allen has pleaded guilty to his role in the robberies and is awaiting sentencing.

In court Wednesday, Felicia Smith's attorney, Sean Dixon of the Legal Aid Society, said Smith's crimes were the "unfortunate product of my client's drug addiction."

Michael Smith, who works for a supermarket, said his daughter has been using drugs -- "everything but heroin" -- since she was 14 or 15. Drugs caused her to give up such hobbies as bowling and horseback riding, and curtailed what he said was a promising cosmetology career.

His daughter graduated two years ago from Newfield High School, Smith said. She has worked at a department store and baby-sat her stepbrother while working "odd jobs," he said. She had talked about joining the military or becoming a police officer.

But Felicia's drug habit caused her to "walk away from everything," and he feared it would kill her, Smith said. Tough discipline didn't work.

"The harder I stayed on her, the worse it got," he said.

The sentence imposed by Hinrichs was "harsh," but fair, he said.

Smith said his daughter plans to take classes in prison, and he hopes Felicia turns her life around.

"She really is so angry at herself and so bitter at what turned out for her life," he said. "I really think she's going to be OK."

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