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Former Tribune Co. executive pleads guilty to bilking employer out of nearly $265,000

Stephanie Pater

Stephanie Pater

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Updated: July 15, 2013 6:53PM

A former Tribune Co. executive pleaded guilty Wednesday to bilking her employer out of $264,000 — admitting she paid herself commissions that should have gone to the Tribune.

Stephanie Pater, 39, faces a maximum of 20 years behind bars, but under federal sentencing guidelines is far more likely to get between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years behind in prison for the scam.

The Tribune’s former real estate director was hired by then-Tribune owner Sam Zell in 2008. According to a profile published soon after in Crain’s Chicago Business, she impressed the notoriously foul-mouthed Zell with a salty approach that included using swear words in her job interview.

By contrast, she appeared meek and gaunt Wednesday morning when she stood before Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan in federal court to plead guilty to mail fraud.

“It was a fraud that was committed,” she told Der-Yeghiayan in a weak voice — an evasion of responsibility that drew the judge’s scorn.

“So it was a fraud that was committed by a third party?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.

A contrite Pater hastily replied, “I was the one . . . the one that was responsible.”

Pater acknowledged that after she left the Tribune in 2010 and set up her own business, The Catalyst Group, to oversee the Tribune’s outsourced real estate management, she created a phony contract document that hadn’t been approved by the Tribune. She then used the phony contract to divert commissions that should have been paid by the contractor to the Tribune to herself.

Pater previously drew the judge’s ire when she skipped three court hearings and went on the run earlier this year. Der-Yeghiayan was forced to issue to warrants for her arrest, but once she tearfully turned herself in to authorities, the judge eventually released her on bond into the custody of her ex-husband.

On Wednesday he allowed her to follow her ex-husband to his new job in Atlanta until her sentencing Sept. 24, but warned her not to skip court again.

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