SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A financial adviser whose lone client was NFL star Dwight Freeney was unexpectedly sentenced Tuesday to six months in prison and ordered to pay $2.2 million for helping trigger a fraud scheme in which millions of dollars were siphoned from the San Diego Chargers linebacker.
Eva Weinberg, a former resident of Hancock Park, pleaded guilty in June in federal court in Los Angeles to one count of being an accessory after the fact, a charge which carries a potential federal prison sentence of up to five years.
Prosecutors recommended a probationary sentence for the 49-year-old defendant, but the judge had other ideas.
"She did know what was going on -- and if she didn't, it was because she was willfully blind," said U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, adding that Weinberg "engaged in a fraud and therefore deserves" a prison term.
"As criminal fraudsters go, she's pretty sophisticated," the judge said.
In 2010, Weinberg began working as Freeney's money manager after leaving a job as a financial adviser at Bank of America-owned Merrill Lynch. According to court papers, she handled his personal finances, real estate investments and business dealings involving the Rolling Stone Los Angeles nightspot at the Hollywood & Highland complex.
Weinberg introduced Freeney to her then-romantic partner, Miami Beach developer Michael A. Stern, telling the athlete that the man's name was Michael Millar and that he could help Freeney with various business opportunities, according to the government.
At some point, Weinberg gave Stern access codes to various bank accounts belonging to Freeney, which her then-boyfriend used to embezzle nearly $3 million over several years using unauthorized and fraudulent transfers, prosecutors said.
Weinberg admitted that she hid information from the athlete about Stern's theft of $53,000 from one of Freeney's accounts, but denied knowing that the ex-developer had stolen millions of dollars.
"I can't agree with that," Wilson said Tuesday. "There is considerable evidence to show that she did know."
Stern was sentenced in October to five years in federal prison and ordered to reimburse about $2.5 million to Freeney.
Weinberg and Stern were living together in a Hancock Park home when they were arrested last year on federal wire fraud charges.
A sobbing Weinberg addressed the court and apologized to Freeney, who was not in court, and her family.
"I care for Mr. Freeney deeply," she said, giving the judge a complicated description of what she claimed were the athlete's financial problems when she worked for him.
In unexpectedly sentencing Weinberg to prison, Wilson rejected the government's recommendation for a three-year period of probation, including home detention.
"Sentencing is not a question of rubber-stamping what the government thinks," the judge said.
Asking the court for a self-surrender date in two months, Weinberg's attorney told the court that his client now works at a wig shop in Boca Raton, Fla.
Freeney sustained a season-ending quadriceps injury in September.