A former Nevada Department of Transportation employee was sentenced Tuesday in District Court to prison for fraud.
Tal Smith, 56, of Fallon received an 18-42 month sentence on one count of fraudulent appropriation of property. He pleaded guilty in November and as part of his sentence must pay $250,639.11 in restitution.
Smith made repeated illegal purchases and concealed them by altering receipts and other records from January 2010 through December 2013.
In court, Thomas Gover, representing the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, asked for the maximum sentence to send a message to other state employees for stealing from the state.
In addition, Gover said Smith learned how to work the system by purchasing items that would avoid audit and altering receipts and invoices.
Although Smith has no criminal history, Gover said with good time he will spend about 7 to 8 months in prison. Gover added Smith was entrusted with the state’s money and used it to fuel his gambling addiction.
Smith’s attorney, Dennis Cameron, hammered home his client’s gambling problems stating he blew money received from a refinanced mortgage as well as the state’s money.
Since his release from jail, Cameron said his client has completed a 30-day in-patient gambling program and still attends out-patient treatment. Cameron said Smith has a disease and mental disorder, which his counselor, Dani Danley of New Frontier Treatment Center, agreed.
Danley said gambling addiction was classified as such in 1980 but did not begin seriously until after 2000. She said Smith has done very well in the program, but prison would not aid his recovery.
Cameron also said prison would not do Smith any good, although probation, continued counseling and restitution would be a better economic option, as it would cost an estimated $20,000 for one year to send Smith to prison.
Cameron also harped on the fact that Smith, once confronted by investigators, confessed and cooperated.
Reading a prepared statement, Smith apologized for his actions and said he destroyed his career, hurt his family and lost numerous friends due to his behavior.
“An addiction is an addiction and I have an addiction,” he said.
Despite Cameron’s argument and Smith’s statement Tenth Judicial District Court Tom Stockard opted for a prison term stating, “I considered probation, but don’t find it appropriate in this case.”
According to the complaint and declaration of probable cause from the Nevada Attorney General’s office, the pattern was discovered when a chain saw was delivered to NDOT’s Fallon facility while Smith was on a hunting vacation. NDOT officials discovered the invoice had been altered, and an investigation was ordered.
The attorney general’s investigator, Wayne Fazzino, said in his declaration that he interviewed Smith, who “admitted using the NDOT purchase card to purchase items that he kept for personal use and/or sold for gambling monies.”
Fallon police assisting in the investigation generated a list of 76 transactions by Smith at pawnshops and secondhand equipment businesses throughout Fallon, Fernley, Reno, Dayton and Carson City.
In addition, the records state investigators recovered more than a dozen tools kept on Smith’s property.