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The Judge and the Stripper

Sometimes bankruptcy debtors ask, “Who will know if I hide an asset?” the answer is, “You can never be sure.”

Christy Yamanaka and Thomas Stringer met in Tampa in 1995. Stinger was a Florida circuit court judge, and Yamanaka worked as a local exotic dancer. According to Yamanaka, she wanted to be friends, but he wanted more. A few years later, she turned to Stringer for legal advice concerning her financial difficulties, and Stinger referred her to his attorney son. In 2000, she filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief in Las Vegas, but was denied a discharge. Stringer was appointed to the appellate court by Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 1999, and Yamanaka retired from the exotic dancing industry in 2009.

Yamanaka claims that she gave Stinger money to hide from her creditors. She claims that he opened several bank accounts in his name, as well as the name of a friend of Christy Yamanaka during a time when Yamanaka owed $315,000 to creditors. He also used her money to purchase a home in Hawaii. Yamanaka frequently made deposits and performed cash transfers into Stringer’s accounts.

Once the conspiring couple sold the Hawaii home, a dispute arose over how to divide the proceeds. When Stinger refused to pay Yamanaka what she felt she deserved, she went public. In 2008, she revealed the conspiracy to the media and to the authorities. Stringer resigned his judgeship while under investigation by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission who charged that he gave her access to bank accounts in his name to keep her assets and income out of creditors’ reach. He also was charged with listing himself as the sole owner of the house in Hawaii and with leasing an apartment for Yamanaka and allowing her to pay rent in cash.

Yamanaka and Stringer both plead guilty to one count of bank fraud in 2009 and received one year supervised probation. Yamanaka was ordered to forfeit the $222,362 profit that she and Stringer made on the sale of the home in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, near Honolulu. The federal prosecutor in the case said that it was unlikely that this conspiracy would have been uncovered had it not been for Yamanaka’s public confession.

Bankruptcy fraud is rarely the type of “perfect crime” that has no loose ends, and is often revealed in a variety of ways. In the case of the Judge and the Stripper, the partners lost their money and were convicted because they could not agree on how to divide their ill-gotten gains. But there are much better (and legal) ways to protect your assets from creditors! Before you make plans to defraud your creditors, speak with an experienced bankruptcy attorney on how the federal bankruptcy laws can help protect you legally.