A Jersey therapist gets 6 months’ home detention
inquirer.com, February 16, 2021
A South Jersey therapist was sentenced Tuesday to six months of home detention after she paid $4,000 to an undercover FBI agent who posed as a hit man willing to beat up an ex-boyfriend she said took her money and kept her “in a constant state of fear.”
Diane Sylvia paid the would-be enforcer, but the plan never went through. On Tuesday, the 60-year-old Somers Point woman told U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez in Camden that she recognized her crime and “never truly wanted” to hurt the ex-boyfriend, Tom Houle.
But, she said, “it seemed like the only way to be safe and to make sure he did not hurt anyone else.”
Sylvia, who has a history of mental illness, told the judge that she met Houle years ago when they both were patients in an Atlantic City psychiatric hospital. He asked to stay at her place because he was depressed, and she let him, she said. She then learned he was a gambler, and she was a gambling counselor, and thought she could help him.
But over the next seven years that they were together in an on-and-off relationship, “he became manipulative, explosive, and blackmailed me by threatening to tell the social work board I was impaired because I had bipolar disorder,” she said. “… He kept me in a constant state of fear.”
Her attorney, Thomas Calcagni, told the judge that the boyfriend had over the years extracted $300,000 to $400,000 from Sylvia, as financial records showed.
(Efforts by The Inquirer to contact Houle on Tuesday were unsuccessful.)
Sylvia reported the extortion to law enforcement authorities and also expressed her concern that he was preying on other women, but they failed to help her, Calcagni said. In June 2016, she called the FBI’s Newark office and reported that she was being abused by the man, and also filed a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, he said.
By Julie Shaw