Blind World

Judge orders guide dog scammers to repay donors.

July 16, 2005.
The Associated Press State & Local Wire.


A husband and wife who raised a half million dollars for a trio of schools that were supposed to benefit blind children, then spent it on themselves, have been ordered to repay the stolen money.

A Nassau County judge also sentenced Steven Southard, 58, to a year in jail and gave his blind wife Barbara Abernethy, 45, five years of probation Friday for a variety of theft, fraud and tax crimes.

Investigators said the couple collected money from singer Barry Manilow and charities associated with director Ron Howard and software company founder Charles B. Wang, among others, under the auspices that it would be used to run Long Island schools that would train guide dogs for blind children.

But between 1996 and 2003, Southard and Abernethy used the money instead to pay for personal expenses, including travel, housing and a lavish wedding ceremony.

Winfield Hall, the 56-room mansion in Glen Cove that was supposed to have been a campus for the schools, became the couple's personal home, investigators said. The estate, built by five and dime store founder F.W. Woolworth, has a mile-long driveway, formal gardens, a tennis court and a swimming pool.

The schools, which had been chartered by the state, never trained a dog or helped a single blind child, investigators said.

Abernethy's attorney, Alfred P. Braverman, told Newsday that his client had genuinely wanted to help people.

"Her dreams were crushed," he said.

Judge Jeffrey S. Brown ordered the couple to repay $521,870 to donors. Both had pleaded guilty to the charges.

The sentencing was briefly interrupted Friday when Abernethy began convulsing in her chair. The proceeding resumed after emergency medical technicians examined her.

End of article.

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