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Archive for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Court rejects Wittig’s appeal

April 21, 2009

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— Former Kansas utility executive David Wittig will remain in prison, serving time for a federal bank fraud conviction, because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday.

The high court, without comment, refused to consider an appeal by the former Westar Energy Inc. CEO of the two-year prison term imposed by a federal judge in 2007. A jury had convicted him in July 2003 on six counts involving his loan of $1.5 million to a former Topeka bank officer.

Wittig already has served most of the sentence and is scheduled to be released in September. He’s incarcerated at a low-security prison in Sandstone, Minn., about 100 miles northeast of Minneapolis, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Jeffrey Morris, a Kansas City, Mo., attorney representing Wittig, did not return a telephone message seeking comment Monday. Wittig’s attorneys have argued previously that the 24-month prison term was at odds with federal sentencing guidelines.

But U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson had said the punishment was warranted because of the crimes involved and because the other defendant, Clinton Odell Weidner II, received a five-year sentence.

Robinson twice tried to impose an even harsher punishment for Wittig, sentencing him to four years and nine months and then five years. Both times, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the sentence.

The appeals court recommended in June 2008 that Robinson sentence Wittig to no more than six months in prison, but it later reversed course and accepted the two-year term. Wittig had been released from prison in February 2007 to pursue his appeals but returned to federal custody in January.

Wittig went to prison for loaning $1.5 million to Weidner in 2001, then helping Weidner hide the transaction from bank and federal officials. As president of a Topeka bank, Weidner was Wittig’s personal loan officer and increased Wittig’s line of credit, allowing Wittig to make the loan.

A jury convicted Wittig on four counts of making false banking entries or reports, one count of money laundering and one count of conspiring to commit fraud.

Wittig resigned as Westar’s top executive in November 2002 so he could concentrate on his defense.

Second federal case

A year later, a federal grand jury indicted him and another former Westar executive on charges of conspiracy and circumventing internal financial controls in what prosecutors alleged was a scheme to loot the Topeka-based utility.

Their first trial in 2004 ended in a mistrial, and convictions from a second trial in 2005 were overturned by the appeals court in Denver. It allowed the less serious charges to stand, and prosecutors planned a third trial.

Wittig and the other former defendant have asked the appeals court to dismiss the charges. That request is pending.

Westar has about 680,000 customers in Kansas and is the state’s largest electric utility.

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