MIAMI – The Rev. Gaston Smith was sentenced to five years probation on Friday, Feb. 26 for stealing county grant funds from his own charity.
During a court hearing on Friday, Smith received the sentence for his third-degree grand theft conviction in December.
“I’m wrong,” Smith told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko on Friday. “I’m here with a check today, to pay restitution.”
Smith faced up to a five-year prison term. But he has not had any prior problems with the law, and was sentenced under the state’s first-time offender guidelines.
In addition to the probation, he must also perform 40 hours of community service each month throughout his probationary period.
Smith, 43, pastors Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in the predominantly black Liberty City section of Miami.
He was convicted of pilfering thousands of dollars in county grant funds that were provided to his non-profit Friends of MLK organization. The funds were intended to assist senior citizens and revitalize the area.
The Metro Miami Action Plan Trust gave his organization a $25,000 county grant in 2005. Instead of using the money for its intended purpose, Smith withdrew over $10,000 of the funds from ATMs in Orlando, Houston and Nevada, including $500 at a Las Vegas martini bar.
At Friday’s sentencing, the courtroom was full of supporters who urged the judge to be lenient on Smith. Some of them even shed tears.
In the end, Butchko was lenient with the sentence, but scolded Smith.
Pictured above is the Rev. Gaston Smith.