Public-access TV director gets jail time
September 15, 2004
Every weekend for the next 90 weeks Craig Swope will serve a 180-day jail sentence for embezzling nearly $500,000 from Carson Access Television where he was director, a judge determined Wednesday.
“I want you to remember every week what you did to those folks,” said Judge Norman Robison in suspending a five-year prison sentence in lieu of five years’ probation. “You’re now a felon and you’ll live with that.”
Swope, 55, pleaded guilty in June to one count of embezzlement for gambling $500,000 of the station’s money between January 1999 and June 2003. Prior to confessing his gambling addiction to the CAT 10 board, he repaid into the station’s account an estimated $420,000, according to court documents.
A remorseful Swope, who has been attending Gambler’s Anonymous meetings since August 2003, tearfully addressed the court, asking forgiveness from friends and colleagues.
“Because of my actions, many lives had been disrupted, friendships have been tested and strained,” he said. “In the Gambler’s Anonymous program, one of the first truths you realize is that the financial consequences of compulsive gambling are frequently the easiest to repair. Unfortunately, matters of trust, character and integrity carry a life-long price.”
According to the charging document, Swope wrote himself duplicate payroll checks, forging a signature on each, in the four years he was executive director. He also failed to pay the IRS withholding tax for employees.
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In December 2002, nonsufficient fund charges also began to appear monthly, eventually totaling $2,268.
“Prior to June 24, 2003, you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone in this community who had a bad thing to say about Craig Swope,” defense attorney Jason Woodbury said in his argument against sending Swope to prison. “But between January 1999 and June 24, 2003, there was another side to Craig Swope that no one knew.”
Woodbury went on to say Swope came forward and confessed of his “own volition,” showing “remarkable character.”
“There was no pending financial audit. No one had given any indication that they had suspicions that something wasn’t adding up. In short, there was no outside force at work compelling Craig to take this action, only his character and conscience,” he said. “He didn’t go to an attorney, didn’t try to run and hide, didn’t try to blame it on someone else. He confessed because it was the right thing to do.”
Woodbury said immediately after confessing, Swope enrolled in therapy and began attending Gambler’s Anonymous meetings four times a week. He became active in his church, took a manual labor job for $6.50 an hour and opened his home for Gambler’s Anonymous fund-raisers. Swope also arranged to pay back $21,000 to CAT 10 and assisted the auditor in deciphering the books and compiling the evidence of his crime.
“It’s one thing to be overcome by remorse and make a single, relatively undetailed confession,” Woodbury noted. “It’s quite another to assist in the process of amassing evidence of your crime.”
He said the audit report is proof Swope isn’t a greedy man.
“In looking at the report you can see, you can almost feel the struggle going on inside Craig,” Woodbury said. “You are not dealing with a greedy man, you are not dealing with an evil man. You are dealing with a desperate man.”
But for CAT 10 President Peter Smith, one of four who offered testimony during the sentencing, Swope’s “disease,” is no excuse for bilking thousands of dollars from people.
“I trusted the guy. He was a very forthright and very jovial person. That’s why everyone loved Craig for so long,” Smith said. “I thought Mr. Swope should spend some time in jail. This went on for more than four years and he forged about 400 checks. He had an explanation about how he has this gambling problem, and it should be treated like a disease, but he wasn’t being charged with gambling. He was charged with theft and theft isn’t a disease.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Anne Langer wasn’t easy on Swope either when she argued for jail time.
“With every check he wrote, he knew he was stealing,” she said. “He looked the board and the community in the eye knowing every step of the way he was stealing them blind. He deserves prison, but if he did go to prison he would not be able to pay the victims back.”
The amount Swope will pay back won’t exceed $120,000, the judge said, but the final amount can’t be set until the IRS assesses the penalties and fines for failing to pay the withholding taxes.
“I believe there is little risk that I can or will do further damage to anyone,” Swope said through tears. “I am truly sorry for all of the pain I have caused and I look forward to committing myself to a life of recovery, rebuilding, restoration and growth.”
Contact F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.