The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California announced that a 50-year-old man has been sentenced to spend six months in a federal prison for embezzling more than $200,000 from the San Diego Zoo. Federal prosecutors say that the man is likely to be deported after completing his custodial sentence because he is a British citizen. The man would have faced a far more severe sentence if he had been found guilty by a jury. He chose to avoid this risk by entering into a plea agreement and pleading guilty to a single count of theft.
Eight years of fraud
The man admitted to submitting invoices to the zoo for products that were not purchased or received over a period of eight years. He also submitted invoices to cover his personal expenses. The money to pay the invoices was deposited directly into accounts controlled by the man or third parties. The third parties then gave most of the money they received to the man. The scheme cost the zoo $236,682 according to U.S. attorneys.
End to a long career
The sentence marked an end to the man’s 17-year career. He joined the zoo as a biologist and eventually became a senior figure in the organization’s Institute for Conservation Research. According to media reports, he has made full restitution.
Negotiating more lenient sentences
Individuals charged with committing federal white-collar crimes like fraud, bribery and embezzlement may choose to avoid jury trials when the sentences for these crimes are severe and the evidence against them is often overwhelming. During plea negotiations, criminal defense attorneys with experience in this area might argue that more lenient treatment is appropriate by mentioning mitigating factors such as sincere regret and the desire to make restitution to those who suffered financially.