In emotional sentencing hearing, Sonya Eddings explains role in $2.3M scheme

Sonya Eddings was sentenced to three years in federal prison Monday afternoon, more than five years after her family and world crumbled under the weight of a scheme to steal $2.3 million from the law firm trust account of her then-husband, Michael Eddings.


She told U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land that she took responsibility for her role in the scam that involved millions of dollars passing through the real estate closing trust account of Michael Eddings’ law firm over a four-year period from 2007 to October 2011. But she also said that he knew of the indescrepancies in the trust account.

Sonya Eddings and their daughter, Candace Eddings, who was 16 when the scam was discovered, told the court they wanted to save their family and they were manipulated by Michael Eddings in an effort to preserve his law license.

“His whole point was to protect his law license — no matter what,” Sonya Eddings told the court of her motivation for taking the blame for the scheme.

Last August, Sonya Eddings entered a guilty plea to one count of wire fraud and faced up to 20 years in prison. The federal sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of 63 months to 78 months. In handing down the lesser sentence of 36 months, Land noted the attempts Sonya Eddings had made to cooperate with authorities over the last 18 months.

Five times either under oath or in an interview with authorities before being assigned legal counsel by the court in 2015, Sonya Eddings told a consistent story of how she was solely responsible for the thefts and Michael Eddings had no knowledge of her illegal activity.

Michael Eddings, now remarried and a criminal defense attorney working primarily in Atlanta and Columbus, was never charged with any crime. Since October 2011, he has maintained his innocence, saying he had no knowledge of the scheme and that his then-wife was solely responsible for the missing money.

In December 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court handed Michael Eddings the lightest possible professional punishment for the funds missing from the firm’s trust account. He was ordered to receive a public reprimand and was allowed to continue to practice law without suspension or disbarment.

Sonya Eddings’ story started to change in late 2015 when the court appointed Barbara H. Agricola of Opelika, Ala., to represent her. Up to that point, she said, she had relied on the legal advice of her then-husband.

“She should have had proper counsel from Day 1 and she was advised otherwise that she didn’t need to,” Agricola said after the sentencing hearing. “... That is just wrong.”

Sonya Eddings outlined for the court two instances in which she claimed Michael Eddings knew of the trust account issues yet took no action.

“Money was being used for something other than trust purposes and he was aware of that at that time?” Land asked Sonya Eddings.

“Yes,” she responded.

Sonya Eddings, who has been living with an aunt in Philadelphia, was her husband’s office manager and was transferring money related to real estate closings from the trust account, then moving it to separate accounts for two failing food-service businesses the couple owned.

She told the court in May 2011, about six months before Columbus Bank and Trust Co. shut down Eddings’ accounts and notified Superior Court because of irregularities, of a time when Michael Eddings was reviewing a bank statement.

“He saw there was a negative balance and asked what happened,” she told the judge. “He said this can’t happen because his law license is the most important thing. He said, ‘Just fix it.’”

As Land pressed Sonya Eddings for details, she calmly answered all his questions, never hesitating in her responses. She would later say it was the first time in nearly six years she felt like she had a voice.

She said her underlying motivation was to protect their daughter, then a high school junior.

“My only concern was my daughter and my one stipulation was that she be taken care of,” Sonya Eddings said. “And he hasn’t even done that.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Crawford Seals said his office has been in a tough situation since January 2016 when Sonya Eddings began fully cooperating with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, trying to initiate taped phone conversations with her former husband. But the FBI was unable to make a case against anyone else and the statute of limitations for potential crimes has expired.

“I am not saying she is lying right now,” Seals told the court of Sonya Eddings’ testimony and statements. “But I am saying she gave inconsistent statements and that really mucked things up.”

Agricola pointed to one example she claims shows how Michael Eddings played the situation to his benefit.

Divorce papers were filed in January 2013 without Sonya Eddings’ knowledge, though she had signed them, Agricola told the court.

“The purpose of the divorce was to distance Mr. Eddings from the situation,” Agricola said. “He then on February 14, 2013, went to Philadelphia where they celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary. The divorce was part of the scheme to protect him.”

Candace Eddings, asking Land to show her mother mercy, told the court her relationship with her father is now fractured. She called her mother “her best friend.”

Candace Eddings told the court her relationship with her father changed when she went out of state to college. She eventually left school and became pregnant, giving the child up for adoption.

“My dad kicked me out of the house,” Candace Eddings told the court. “Two months ago, he told me I was dead to him.”

Michael Eddings was not in the courtroom during the two-hour proceeding in which Sonya Eddings was sentenced.

Candace Eddings is engaged and the wedding is scheduled for September. Land delayed Sonya Eddings’ prison reporting date until after the wedding.

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