Need a get out of jail free card? Call the New York Times.
The Gray Lady helped embezzling PTA treasurer Providence Hogan retain her freedom this week — thanks to a gushing column that unleashed a flood of donations to help Hogan repay the $82,000 she stole from her Cobble Hill school.
One month ago, Hogan said that she had just $30,000 in pledges and assets to offer the pilfered parents of PS 29, but after Metropolitan section columnist Ginia Bellafante’s sympathetic story about Hogan was published on Oct. 9, donations poured in.
On Tuesday, Hogan paid back $50,000, and agreed to a repayment schedule consisting of eight quarterly payments of $4,000.
One-third — roughly $16,000 — of that $50,000 payment came from people who were moved by Bellafante’s psychological analysis of the thieving mother, defense attorney Stephen Flamhaft explained.
The rest came from an acquaintance who bought into Hogan’s business, the Providence Day Spa on Atlantic Avenue, and members of B’Nai Avraham on Remsen Street, where Hogan’s husband is a congregant.
“[The Times article] was one of the few instances where she was portrayed sympathetically and it triggered a positive response,” said Flamhaft. “People were about 50-50 on whether Hogan should be punished or receive some kind of compassion. So overall it had an impact.”
The story may have also swayed Supreme Court Justice Suzanne Mondo, who signed off on Hogan’s deal. Flamhaft said Bellafante’s tear-jerker “was discussed” during meetings with Mondo as the plea deal was hammered out.
“It was part of our dialogue,” he said. “That and the other press on the case.”
Mondo could not be reached on Wednesday night, but a spokesman for District Attorney Charles Hynes said that the column was not a factor in the DA’s acceptance of a deal that allows Hogan to make full restitution in two years, instead of the originally propose one.
“The deal was made on the merits of the case,” the spokesman said.
And what a case it was: As treasurer, Hogan had unfettered access to the Henry Street school’s PTA checkbook, and cut checks to herself for fertility treatments and rent on her home and business.
Bellafante’s piece depicted Hogan as a woman to be pitied, not punished with a lengthy jail sentence. The story recounted the embezzler’s troubled upbringing and her subsequent depression after her husband lost his job. Hogan told Bellafante that she took the PTA’s money “as a way of staying afloat.”
Bellafante recommended that Hogan not be sent to jail, but rather be allowed to “repay her debt on a realistic timetable” and “perform community service at a school with few of the benefits available at a place like PS 29.”
The story unleashed money and sympathy, but its author said that she never thought the piece was “inappropriately sympathetic.”
“The column reflected my larger belief that imprisonment should not be the default response to punishing every type of crime,” she said. “I felt strongly that sending Providence Hogan to jail was not going to make the world a better place.”
Still, Bellafante said she was surprised by the outpouring of support her column generated.
“The response to [the story] from locals was largely critical,” she said. “It wasn’t necessarily evident that she had many sympathizers — not to mention financially generous ones.”
Reach reporter Thomas Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-2525.