It was not the outcome Terry McManus was expecting. Not nearly. He’d asked for probation. But he’d also dawdled, gambled, and lost after getting several chances to plead for half the prison time he ended up getting.
Earlier in the day in a different courtroom, facing a different and more magnanimous judge in a different case, he’d sniffed at an offer of two years in prison on a fraud case, presumably finding it too steep. His attorney said he’d wait before accepting a deal, pending the outcome of the sentencing on a DUI conviction later in the day.
A few hours later, Circuit Judge Chris France sentenced McManus to four years in prison for McManus’s third DUI in 10 years, and a year in jail–to be served concurrently–for refusing to submit to a breathalizer test when he was arrested. It was an especially steep sentence resulting from his arrest on July 24, 2019, as he was passed out, drunk, at the wheel of a golf cart that had gotten stuck in the A1A construction zone at the south end of Flagler Beach.
McManus had made a splash in Flagler Beach by taking over several years ago the long-disused Ocean Palms Golf Course, the nine-hole course owned by the city of Flagler Beach, and turning it into a viable operation again, with a restaurant–if fitfully so, and despite numerous run-ins with city government over accounting methods and other issues.
After a jury found him guilty of the DUI charge in June, France ordered McManus to jail immediately, revoking his bond. he’s been there since, so his 107 days will be awarded as credit against his four-year prisons sentence. With so-called gain time, or early release for good behavior, once he’s served 85 percent of his sentence, McManus is looking at just under three years in prison. Still, he’d been angling for no prison time.
This morning he’d appeared by video conference before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins on the other case he faces: a felony fraud charge in which he’s accused of defrauding his insurer by claiming that one of his construction vehicles at the golf club had been stolen, when in fact the vehicle had never been in his ownership: a Flagler Beach detective traced the vehicle to its rightful owner–in Canada. The third-degree felony charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He was before Perkins today on docket sounding, the last step before trial. But he did not want a trial date set just yet.
“We have the other case set for sentencing this afternoon,” Matthew McGuire, his attorney, told Perkins. “This one is ready to go. So, now obviously this afternoon will determine a lot as to the future on this case but at this point we are ready to go.”
Perkins, aware that McManus hadn’t been sentenced yet on the DUI charge, asked if there was a chance to combine both the fraud and the DUI case and sentence him for both. There was.
“About 10 days ago there was a 24 month offer to include both cases,” McGuire said. “I then spoke to the prosecutor who handled the trial and his 2019 case, he then revoke that.” McGuire said the prosecutor was now pushing five years on the DUI charge.
But Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis said in court today that the offer of two years was revoked because “there was no movement by the defense” on the offer.
“I think that’s what it was,” McGuire agreed.
Put another way: McManus was not happy with two years in prison even when both cases were combined. He wanted no prison time.
Remarkably, Lewis renewed the offer of two years then and there: “If that’s 24 months is still available with the probation that follows, is your client willing to accept that to resolve everything? And then I’ll talk to Mr. Nealis.” Assistant State Attorney James Nealis prosecuted the DUI case. “If he’s not I’m not going to waste time talking.”
“At this point, no, I don’t have the authority to,” McGuire said. “Obviously I can speak to Mr McManus, but I was obviously hoping we could resolve both of them, judge.”
Lewis tried again: “Well we can,” the prosecutor said. “I’ll talk to Mr. Nealis if you get the 24 months followed by the probation, whatever it was before. But if you’re saying your client is not going to take it, then why are we wasting any time?”
Perkins said he was placing the fraud case on the Nov. 12 docket. He said Mc Manus had every right to a trail, “but if there’s an opportunity to resolve both cases and it’s attractive to Mr. McManus, then resolve it.”
It was not attractive to McManus. “Judge, just to let the court know,” McGuire said, “obviously we are, or would be, potentially agreeable to enter a plea on the other case or on this particular case, obviously not based on the terms that are currently offered.”
“You’d be willing to plead if it was more favorable than the 24 months,” Perkins said.
“Sure. Yeah. He’s not set in stone on this but we do have, in my opinion, a legit defense.”
Perkins said he had “no dog in this fight,” and predicted exactly what would happen, in essence yet again giving McManus and his lawyer a chance not taken. “I don’t control this,” Perkins said. “Judge France, he’s doing it. But if you decide, no we’re not going to go in, and judge France winds up sentencing to more than 24 months, this turns out to be a bad decision. Because then he’s got another trial or plea, and then another sentence. So, you know, just explore it fully. Make sure everybody’s aware of what’s going on, and then make the best decision you want to make, and I’m sure Judge France will do what he thinks is correct and everybody moves on.”