ZEIGLER, IL (KFVS) - The former treasurer for the city of Zeigler, Illinois was sentenced to four years in prison on federal charges of embezzlement.
Ryan Thorpe was sentenced in Benton on Tuesday morning, June 12. He was ordered to pay a special assessment to the government of $500 and restitution without interest at a total of $321,399.22.
Thorpe also agreed to forfeit assets to the United States, including a second side-by-side Utility Task Vehicle; a portable building; a lot and trailer located across the street from Thorpe's house in Zeigler; five additional vacant lots located in Zeigler; two IRAs valued at a total of approximately $9,000; and a camper. After these properties are forfeited and sold, the U.S. Attorney's Office will request that the funds from the sales be released and applied
to the restitution to the city.
Thorpe pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and embezzlement in March 2018.
This was a change from his original not guilty plea on February 15.
Judge Saci M. Yandle noted the devastating impact Thorpe's embezzlements have had on the City of Zeigler.
"The seriousness of your crime cannot be overstated," said Judge Thorpe. Judge Yandle determined that Thorpe's crimes were motivated by "absolute and unadulterated greed."
"We feel that the sentence imposed by the court today appropriately addresses the seriousness of Thorpe's criminal conduct," commented U.S. Attorney Boyce. "Officials who steal from the citizens they are elected and appointed to represent commit a gross abuse of public trust. It's our hope that lengthy prison sentences like the one imposed today will serve to deter other public officials from defrauding their constituents."
Four months after federal embezzlement charges are leveled against the former treasurer in Zeigler, it looked like he would face a judge and take responsibility for the crime.
Zeigler resident Jack Dunaway has strong feelings about Ryan Thorpe's crimes and the deal that led to his guilty plea in federal court.
"It's just not fair to all the communities and all the other surrounding areas," he said. "A person that embezzles that kind of money in that, I don't think he has a right to be out on the street for a while."
Around the community, several people who fear Thorpe won't spend a day behind bars. One man who wanted to remain anonymous said he spent several years in prison for an armed robbery that got him just three hundred dollars.
"I deserve to be punished…there is no doubt about it. But compared to what he did…it's not fair," that man explained.
Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell was relieved this case came to an end.
"Finally, finally we got a plea…It's a relief …he actually did admit it, that's a good start."
Mitchell said Thorpe's actions had ramifications to the city's finances.
"We're getting hit from the state level…and then having to deal with this it makes it difficult for you to…you have to cut your expense, you really do," he said.
Mitchell said the impact that missing money's had on Zeigler only gets worse with time.
"It doesn't stop," he said. "You still have a demand for police services, the water has to flow, the sewer has to flow, people have to be paid. You can cry about it but you still have to go on."
The mayor said they're also working to rebuild the trust of residents.
"Well we are moving on, we will be stronger when we finish with this financially," he said.
A grand jury indicted Ryan Thorpe, 44, of Zeigler on three counts of wire fraud and two counts of embezzlement from a local government.
Thorpe was accused of embezzling more than $300,000 from the city.
Despite the charges, Dennis Mitchell, the mayor of Ziegler, was in disbelief at the time.
"Well I'm actually shocked that Ryan pleaded not guilty," said Mitchell. "It's still surreal. I just can't, I can't believe it."
There were hundreds of checks from the bank.
According to the Department of Justice, from 2013 to August of 2017, Thorpe wrote checks to himself from the city of Ziegler. Investigators said Thorpe took the checks and "whited out" his name in the payee section of the checks, wrote in the names of vendors and suppliers that the city did business with, made copies of the altered checks, and placed those copies in the bank records kept by the city. Thorpe then allegedly shredded the "whited out" copies of the checks.
Thorpe concealed his theft further by submitting false monthly Treasurer's Reports to the Zeigler City Council, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
This is big news for a small, quiet city like Ziegler, but an even bigger strain for city workers.
"We are just as angry due to the fact we are personally affected," said one worker. "Our dental insurance has been canceled and even our health insurance was almost canceled. We were threatened with garnishment of our paychecks for IMRF pension."
But the mayor said the city has a backup plan.
"Well we have insurance claim filed at this point," said the mayor. "I'm supposed to meet with Brad Cole on Saturday with the municipal league. He's scheduled to deliver us a $100,000 check for our initial claim for our losses. That will help us catch up on some of our past due bills."
The indictment also demands that Thorpe forfeit numerous items investigators believe he bought with embezzled funds. That includes two side-by-side Utility Task Vehicles, two motorcycles, a portable building, lots in the city of Zeigler, a utility trailer, numerous firearms, and a diamond ring.
The FBI conducted search warrants at the Zeigler City Hall and at Thorpe's house on Thursday, August 24. Agents also searched an office in city hall and interviewed staff members.
Mayor Dennis Mitchell said guns and vehicles were seized from Thorpe's home. Thorpe was also recently put on unpaid administrative leave, according to Mitchell. A city meeting was held on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. It was open to the public for 40 minutes and then a closed meeting was held right after to discuss the FBI investigation.
Thorpe was fired after a city council meeting on Sept. 19.
According to Mitchell, all 2016 tax money has been accounted for. He said all checks were compared with bank statements and that he stands by the audit. The next audit was due in October 2017.
The investigation was conducted by agents from the Springfield Division, Marion, Illinois Resident Agency, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). The Franklin County Sheriff's Department assisted in the investigation.