Even though U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers handed down a prison term of 51 months to confessed embezzler Guy Thompson, she acknowledged a mystery about his case that remains: How much he really stole.
Although Thompson, former executive director of the defunct United Way of Santa Rosa County, has admitted to taking $652,000 from the charity he ran for 39 years, neither the FBI nor the IRS is sure that amount is anywhere near the total of diverted donations.
“I should note that the government only knows about seven years,” Rodgers said when sentencing Thompson on Jan. 17.
The investigation has been limited in scope to the period of 2011-2018 because bank account records available in the case don’t go back any further.
Thompson, while making a tearful apology in court, hasn’t volunteered information about whether his scheme to defraud the charity could actually have started years before records seized by federal investigators in October 2018. Thompson has since been fired, and the charity’s charter has been revoked.
“Remorseful doesn’t seem strong enough,” said Thompson, who momentarily turned his back on Rodgers to look into the Pensacola courtroom audience of about 60 witnesses, reporters, family members and friends.
“I’m very sorry. It’s out of character and out of line with the way I was brought up and my church,” said the 66-year-old Thompson, whose tenure as the paid leader of the Milton-based United Way chapter overlapped his 36 years on the city council there—the last 20 as mayor ending in 2014.
But a longtime Thompson friend, Randy Jorgenson, wasn’t receptive to the apology.
Jorgenson, the Milton city manager, spoke out in open court—looking back and forth at the judge and defendant: Jorgenson described Thompson as a man he previously “admired and respected.”
But Jorgenson said that changed in the wake of Thompson’s confession in open court last May: “He betrayed the public trust.”
Jorgenson added that that charges revealed Thompson as “the opposite of Robin Hood. You took from the poor.”
Indeed, Santa Rosa’s United Way was a conduit for donations that went to a variety of causes including homeless families.
Jorgenson noted that he had been among the 100 or so City of Milton employees who donated to Thompson’s United Way. Staring at Thompson, the city manager—who had also been a UWSRC board member—added, “Mr. Thompson, I didn’t give it to you.”
The judge’s dismay
Rodgers’ sentence of prison time swept aside the pleading of Thompson’s attorney, Ryan Cardoso, for leniency in the form of probation or confinement at home.
Rodgers said she took into account Thompson’s otherwise admirable record of public service, saying, “Good works don’t overshadow the harm that has been done.”
Recounting that Thompson’s embezzlement lasted for years and involved hundreds of separate bank transactions to funnel donations into his personal account, Rodgers said, “I have to tell you this is inexplicable. The only way to explain it is greed.”
Rodgers is allowing Thompson to remain free without bond for now but ordered him to report to start serving his sentence at the minimum- security Pensacola Federal Prison Camp on March 2.
Before then there are other questions about the case that Rodgers wants answered, such as the correct amount of financial restitution that Thompson must make.
Federal authorities have already seized at least $221,000 from bank accounts held by Thompson. They have also signaled their intention to obtain restitution of another $430,000 from Thompson, some of it by confiscating and selling property.
But some question whether the true amount Thompson should make good on is far more. The charity’s current interim director, Kyle Holley, said that the scandal and subsequent end to accepting donations left United Way of Santa Rosa County $1.3 million in debt.
The Pensacola-based United Way of West Florida has taken on some of the defunct Santa Rosa chapter’s responsibilities but hasn’t established a physical headquarters to replace the closed Milton office and offer personal contact with the needy who were long served by the agency when it was headed by Thompson.
Indeed, Holley and other UWSRC faithful say the loss of credibility suffered in the Thompson debacle make it unlikely that the United Way name can be restored to its former prominence in Santa Rosa within the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Thompson’s health has deteriorated. He recently underwent surgery to install a heart pacemaker and a medical report ordered by his attorney warns that the onset of dementia could be coming.