Archive for Monday, April 2, 2007

Douglas County victims of white-collar crimes receive little, if any, restitution

April 2, 2007


Hear an interview with District Attorney Charles Branson about the court's restitution system.


For the past decade, the whereabouts of Steve McMurry have remained a mystery to Kansas University officials - despite his $250,000 debt.

McMurry, who embezzled more than $257,000 from the student-run organization KU on Wheels in 1982, has paid just $3,000 back. And, in spite of filing civil lawsuits and hiring a lawyer in Boulder, Colo., to help keep tabs on him, the university hasn't received a payment since 1989.

"We've done everything legally we can do. The only thing left to do is call Dog the bounty hunter to see if he can bring him in," KU spokesman Todd Cohen joked.

McMurry is one of the more notorious cases in Douglas County of white collar criminals found guilty of embezzling money and leaving thousands - or in some cases hundreds of thousands - of dollars unpaid.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said that victims of embezzlement crimes are rarely paid back in full.

"It is a crime. There are very few things that make a victim whole after a crime has been committed," Branson said.

$4 million left unpaid

Victims in Douglas County are owed more than $4.6 million in restitution, according to court records taken from several databases that date back to the late 1980s.

District Court Clerk Doug Hamilton said after 12 years, if the state or the victim does not ask for a revival, restitution orders can be extinguished.

Alan Ellebrecht owes the most restitution in Douglas County, $851,414. His former business partner, John Carland, owes $174,793, according to court records. In 2002, Ellebrecht pleaded guilty to selling securities without being registered as a broker and of selling unregistered securities. Carland was convicted of security fraud the same year.

Hamilton said Ellebrecht is still making payments. It is unknown whether Carland is making payments.

A woman convicted of scamming a retired judge and his wife, Jolene Harrell, still has $120,000 left to pay on a conviction made last summer.

Almost a year and half after his sentencing, the former head of the Lawrence's teachers union, Wayne Kruse, has $90,684 left to pay. In 2005, Kruse was ordered to repay $95,384, the amount he stole from the Kansas National Education Association.

Most white collar criminals are first-time offenders and are placed on probation. Even if restitution is set as part of that probation, once the period is up, the guilty are under no real obligation from the criminal courts to pay it off.

"I wish the system was better capable of gaining restitution for people, but criminal justice isn't designed to be a debt-collection system," Branson said.

Part of the issue is a philosophy that has been in place since the start of the country's justice system, Branson said, which frowned upon the Old World concept of debtor's prison.

"Do you want to put someone in jail that isn't a danger to the public but only owes money?" Branson said.

Other tales

KU isn't the only local school that has been fleeced.

Gerry Burd admitted to stealing more than $100,000 from the Haskell Foundation in 2001. Burd had stopped making payments before he committed suicide in 2005. In all, Michael O'Leary, who is the chief financial officer for Haskell Foundation, said the foundation was repaid less than $1,000.

For small businesses, embezzlement can be devastating.

The owners of the father-sons business Kornbrust Pole Line Builders Inc. haven't seen any money from the $389,000 that Randall Asbury was charged with stealing from the company in 1999. Asbury was sentenced to more than three years in prison and then spent more time in jail for another crime.

Charlene Kornbrust, wife of the owner Hubert Kornbrust, said they have been notified that Asbury was out of prison, but they don't know where he is and haven't received any payments. Her husband hasn't taken legal steps to get the money back, she said.

"He never tried," she said. "He had all he wanted. It was terrible."

Asbury was in charge of buying and selling equipment for the business and was caught after the Internal Revenue Service came in to look at the books before an auction. The family had to sell the entire business, Charlene Kornbrust said, to pay off back taxes.

"All the extra money from the business, (Hubert) put back in the business and figured he had his retirement," Charlene Kornbrust said.

After the incident, they "struggled a little," she said, but now Hubert's two sons are running successful businesses, and her husband is receiving his union pension.

Not all embezzlers skip out on their duties to pay back the money they took. Shelly Ausherman, wife of a Willow Township trustee, paid back $30,000 before going to prison in 2005. After her release, she continued to make monthly payments.

McMurry's trail

KU leaders don't expect that McMurry's debt will be repaid.

Between 1973 and 1982, McMurry siphoned money out of KU on Wheels. He was caught in September 1982 when a check bounced that was written to the bus system but deposited in McMurry's personal account.

McMurry was found guilty on five felony counts of theft and sentenced to two to five years in prison. When McMurry was released early from prison in 1984, part of his condition of parole was to make restitution payments of $200 a month.

Court records show that for four years, McMurry made monthly payments - although the majority were for far less than $200. Then, in 1989, he stopped paying.

Because McMurry was no longer under parole, he wasn't obligated by the criminal court system to pay off the rest. In 1993, the restitution was waived.

KU had the option - which it took - to pursue the case in civil court.

The IRS also placed a lien on McMurry for $222,000, which puts the agency first in line if any payments are ever made.

In 1992, the university hired an attorney to track down McMurry in Boulder, Colo., where he was living.

Mary Prewitt was an assistant general counsel in the early 1990s when the university took a renewed interest in McMurry.

"We could have spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars keeping track of Steve McMurry and never gotten another dime out of him," Prewitt said.

The last account the university had of McMurry came from a newspaper article published by the Journal-World in 1994. At that time, McMurry was still living in Boulder and doing landscaping and design work.

When contacted recently, his father, Dean McMurry, who lives in Boulder, said he doesn't know where his son is but had heard he had been living in Belize, and, for a time, in Houston.

If McMurry ever would resurface, KU spokesman Cohen said, the university would try to recoup the money.

"I think it's always an open case. You never know when people will pop up," Cohen said.

Prewitt said investigations never uncovered any accounts where McMurry stashed the $257,000 or revealed valuable assets that they could sell.

"We never found any; we looked, believe me," Prewitt said.

Instead, Prewitt holds to the theory that McMurry "frittered it all" and said he was known to have an "extravagant lifestyle."

It is not uncommon, Branson said, for embezzlers to have nothing to show for the thousands of dollars they steal.

"In the three biggest cases I've seen, they've blown the money, lived a little better, ate out a little more, spent a little more freely," Branson said.


armyguy 11 years, 2 months ago

I would like to know why KU on Wheels is a scam? It is the only bus system run by students on a campus in the US. Drive and or park your car/truck for less than this bus costs.

Get a life or start you own bus in the Lawrence system,

I think this why the City want to get hold of the KU bus system, it is operated in a cost efficient bassies.

Sounds like some folks want the free advertising that previous, (see crooks) ran.

shirinisb 11 years, 2 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Nonsense 11 years, 2 months ago

I am still waiting on my money. The da got the order, then the court trustee tries to collect and they add 30% on for a collection fee. I think they collected their's but not mine.

Mr_Missive 11 years, 2 months ago

These are the only one that made it to court with a judgment. I bet there are 10 times the amount that were never legally pursued. It costs a lot of time and money to get your money back.

tbeartron 11 years, 2 months ago

Of the 250,000 dollars, how much did the homes McMurry owned sell for? What happenned to the money when the cars and boat sold? There was more than just 3,000 dollars recovered, someone needs to clear the goo from their mind and state the real facts. I know the family, 1 brother in Neb, 1 brother in Col, his sister lives in western Kansas, his mother in central Kansas. I'm sure if anyone REALLY wanted to find him, it could be done.

prioress 11 years, 2 months ago

That's why they call it "white collar." Steal $300 from a liquor store, you are likely to do some serious time. Steal $300 million from the taxpayers or the shareholders, and you get much lighter treatment and get to keep on with your life. One of the BUSHCO brothers comes to mind (Silverado Savings and Loan, anyone? Anyone?) BTW: You want to see some efficient white collar crime? Check out NCLB and some of the "research-based" independent contractors on that gravy train. Also, check to see which ones have long-standing relationships with BUSHCO.

shirinisb 11 years, 2 months ago

how in the heck did i violate use policy

no use posting here anymore

leadrain 11 years, 2 months ago

Well, Golllly! Kinda makes me want to roll the dice and not pay my fines, I wish I could hide for 25 years but I have a conscience( however frazzled) I pay my fines and it's only( ONLY?} $8000. Maybe, it's because of his so-called standing that he hasn't been located. They came and got me from OHIO. And I wasn't even hiding. Hmmmmm! Maybe that was my mistake. If YOU owe money RUNNNNNNNN, they're coming for you. A few small fish equals a whale to the city, and fish are easier to catch. Swim Free Moby!!

Kontum1972 11 years, 2 months ago

so isnt that kind of money considered grand larceny?

compmd 11 years, 2 months ago

The federal government was able to identify and locate wannabe hacker Gary McKinnon, who broke into DoD computers, and win an order to extradite him from England. The investigation damage assessment was $700k.

How can we not find this McMurry character in Colorado?

badger 11 years, 2 months ago

You know, Branson pulls up the bogeyman of the Debtor's Prison like some Dickensian villian invoked to scare naughty children. "Oh, do you want to put those poor, poor people in jail just for owing money? Oh, do you want those destitute criminals put in jail because they just can't come up with the quarter-million dollars they owe?"

No, not at all. I don't want to lock up the poor, or the destitute, or people who can't pay their bills.

I just think that when you're ordered to make restitution, a jail sentence for failure to pay should be set. Like, "You have a five-year jail term, which will be a suspended sentence contingent on continuing to make the court-ordered payments and keeping the court apprised of your whereabouts. You miss two consecutive payments, you serve the sentence and any prison wages you earn will be applied to your debt."

Sigmund 11 years, 2 months ago

This is has nothing to do with Bush. IIRC WorldCom's 70 BILLION DOLLAR fraud was committed during the Clinton Administration (Janet Reno was busy burning kids at Waco) and Bernie was only charged and convicted under the Bush Justice Department. Gov Kathy is a democrat yet no one blames her for releasing Wittig. Just more idiotic ranting from the loonies ....

yellowhouse 11 years, 2 months ago

I had a woman steal my check book and write almost $10,000. worth of stolen checks in 5 days...she gets probabation... Another guy steals my account information and spends over $8,000. on the internet, I get the money back because my account is FDIC insured, and the bank and police are not interested cause its a paper crime...non violent probation only.. Makes you wonder why anybody would bother to rob a bank or convienience store!!!!

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