BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — On Monday, a judge gave Peter Jhonny Limat a chance to get his affairs in order before being sentenced in a food stamp fraud scheme.
There was one condition: He had to agree to return to court the next day to be fitted with a GPS bracelet to monitor his whereabouts until sentencing on Jan. 13, when he was scheduled to receive a two-year jail term.
Earlier this month, Limat, 38, of Lynn, who owns convenience stores in Salem and Lynn, pleaded guilty to electronic benefits transfer fraud in a scheme in which he gave people cash, then processed the illegal transaction as a food sale using the customer’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit card.
When Limat, 38, of Lynn, failed to show up at the courthouse Tuesday for his bracelet, Judge Howard Whitehead waited for him all morning, then issued a warrant.
Still, the judge, known for his patience, wanted to give Limat the benefit of the doubt. Even though it was Christmas Eve, the judge remained at the courthouse until it closed at 4:30 p.m., on the chance Limat would show up.
A probation officer who had the day off even went by Limat’s home, where his wife said she hadn’t seen him since the day before.
When Limat finally turned up on Thursday with a list of excuses, the judge ran out of patience and put him in custody.
And yesterday, the judge decided to impose the two-year jail term immediately — even as Limat’s new attorney, Jean-Fresnel Josaphat, offered more excuses for Limat’s failure to show up.
“He told me he was trying to borrow some money to buy presents for his kids,” Josaphat argued yesterday. His plan was to work with a friend who drives a cab. “That guy did not make enough money. He called a friend, and his friend loaned him $400. He went to the Burlington Mall to buy presents and his car broke down.”
But because he’d worked the night before in the cab, the battery on his cellphone had drained, so he could not call anyone, the lawyer continued. “A stranger gave him a ride,” said the lawyer.
Whitehead, a former high-ranking prosecutor, pointed out that Limat had offered five different excuses during a hearing on Thursday.
Limat had even claimed that he did arrive at the Salem courthouse at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. Then, when told the building was still open and there had been no sign of him, he changed his account to say it was after 4:30.
“I frankly just don’t have confidence in his intention to appear back here after today,” said Whitehead.
Josaphat pleaded with the judge to let Limat out of jail, saying his family has planned a birthday party for him on Dec. 29, and offering to surrender any documents he might need to leave the country and return to his native Haiti.
Previously, Limat had told the judge he’d lost his passport — an assertion Whitehead also cast doubt on yesterday.
“He’s lucky he got Christmas,” said Whitehead. “I’m afraid he’s going to have to have his birthday celebration in Middleton (jail).”
The judge then asked a clerk to immediately impose the two-year sentence.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.