Records say accused embezzler has multiple personality disorder
January 13, 2010 by Tom Witosky
Accused embezzler Phyllis Stevens was treated for six years for multiple personality disorder, and her lawyer wants to explore whether that can be a defense in her criminal case.
The Des Moines woman’s lawyer, William Kutmus, disclosed the diagnosis in a motion filed Tuesday in federal court. Kutmus asked for a delay in her trial, which had been scheduled to begin in February.
Kutmus said the personality disorder, which gained prominence in the 1970s, is recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
“Most people of my generation have either read the book ‘Sybil’ or saw the movie,” Kutmus said. ” ‘Sybil’ was controversial back” in the 1970s “but now, over 30 years later, multiple personality disorder is recognized. It is no longer controversial,” he said.
The motion represents one of two new twists to the federal prosecution of Stevens, who was indicted on 20 counts of money laundering, wire fraud, identity theft and computer fraud for allegedly embezzling nearly $6 million from Aviva USA, an insurance company.
In addition, the lawyer for Phyllis Stevens’ spouse, Marla, has requested a delay of at least two months to allow Marla Stevens to recover from a scheduled hysterectomy and removal of lymph nodes as a result of having cancer of the uterus.
Marla Stevens’ surgery has been scheduled for Jan. 25 at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City.
Prosecutors have indicated they would not oppose either motion, the court documents say.
Marla Stevens, 58, has been accused of conspiring with Phyllis Stevens to launder money and spend some of the stolen money.
Marla Stevens could face 50 years in prison and fines amounting to $1.2 million if convicted.
Phyllis Stevens, 58, could face a maximum sentence of 319 years in prison and fines amounting to $5.5 million if convicted.
FBI agents arrested Phyllis Stevens in September in Las Vegas after Aviva officials discovered a discrepancy on a spreadsheet listing commissions that were paid to independent insurance agents.
Federal investigators have said that Phyllis Stevens siphoned $5.9 million into an Indianapolis bank account by manually manipulating the company computer system and using the names of two former employees.
The account was held in the names of both Phyllis and Marla Stevens, investigators say.
In his motion, Kutmus said that he had obtained medical records from an Indianapolis psychiatrist. The records show that Phyllis Stevens had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with multiple personality disorder, now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, in 1988, according to court documents.
“The medical records show that Phyllis Stevens was treated for multiple personality disorder for years and voluntarily dropped out of treatment on Sept. 9, 1995,” the motion says.
Kutmus’ motion did not provide additional details, but it did request additional time to explore possible defenses for his client.
“Any lawyer who would ignore this potential defense would be remiss in his duty to his client,” Kutmus said.
Robert Rigg, a Drake University law professor, said a mental disorder defense may not be useful in federal court during a trial.
“You can have a mental disorder, but it may not help you at trial unless you can prove at the time the defendant didn’t know the difference between right and wrong,” Rigg said.
But Rigg also said that diminished capacity – defined as having a mental disorder or disease that would prohibit a defendant from forming the specific intent to commit a crime – can be used to obtained a lighter sentence under federal sentencing guidelines.
“Anyway you look at it, it could be a tough defense, but it is something that clearly would have to be explored by her attorneys,” Rigg said.