Man sentenced to jail in wrestling club embezzlement

GILLETTE — A former treasurer of two youth wrestling clubs in Gillette will serve 30 days in jail and pay $50,000 in restitution for money he stole from them.

In June, Steven Johnson, 45, pleaded guilty to theft and agreed to pay $50,000 in restitution for money he stole from the clubs: $20,500 to the Camel Kids Wrestling Club and $29,500 to the Gillette Wrestling Club.

Wednesday afternoon, District Judge Thomas W. Rumpke sentenced Johnson to two to four years in prison, suspended in favor of a 30-day split sentence in the county jail to be followed by three years of supervised probation.

Rumpke called the wrestling clubs “incredibly vulnerable victims” that trusted Johnson “almost blindly” to handle their finances.

In exchange for Johnson’s guilty plea, prosecutors recommended a two- to four-year prison sentence, suspended in favor of a 30-day split sentence in county jail to be served weekends. This was approved by both clubs.

Instead of just spending weekends in jail, Johnson will have to serve the whole 30 days at once, Rumpke said. Johnson will get credit for three days served.

Johnson said Wednesday that he takes full responsibility and accountability for his actions. He said he took the money to support his family after he got laid off from the coal mines in 2016 and lost his house and car.

He apologized to the children and the families in the wrestling clubs and said he is working on becoming a better person.

“I have to live with my actions. I am a felon,” he said. “I deserve this. I was wrong.”

Johnson said most, if not all, of the $50,000 will be repaid in the next month.

His attorney, Steven Titus, said Johnson never denied wrongdoing, cooperated with law enforcement and expressed remorse for his actions. He asked that Rumpke suspend all of the jail time so that Johnson can keep his job, which he needs to pay the clubs back.

Titus said that if Johnson were a woman, prosecutors would have recommended him for straight probation with no jail time. He cited past cases in Campbell County and Wyoming where female embezzlers were sentenced to probation.

Marcella Hall, who stole nearly $40,000 from the Campbell County Treasurer’s Office, was recommended to be on probation and serve no jail time. She ended up spending a few weeks in jail. Micky Culey got straight probation after stealing thousands of dollars from the Gillette Hockey Association.

Titus said there is a “clear discrepancy” based on gender when it comes to these types of crimes.

“His gender doesn’t matter. His actions matter,” said prosecuting attorney Steve McManamen.

McManamen said Johnson’s crimes “hit the Gillette community right in the heart.” He asked how many people will now think twice about donating to either of the wrestling clubs because of Johnson’s actions.

Rumpke said he does not believe there is a gender disparity as Titus claimed. He cited two of his own cases. Sherry Fuller, who took $6,600 from the Gillette Babe Ruth League, spent 90 days in jail. And Yelizaveta Zolotova, who stole tens of thousands of dollars from Volunteers of America clients, served 180 days in jail.

“Nothing in this (Johnson’s) case warrants straight probation,” Rumpke said.

Mike Johnson, representing Camel Kids Wrestling, said Steven Johnson was selfish and thought only of himself instead of the children.

“I question his remorse more than anything,” said Mike Johnson, who is not related to Steven.

Steven Johnson’s actions left “130 kids in a bad predicament,” Mike Johnson said, and the club had to jump through a lot of hoops just to have a season.

After he serves his jail time, Johnson will be on three years of supervised probation. Rumpke will instruct Johnson’s probation officer to limit his access to cable TV and high-speed internet to free up more money to pay the clubs back.

What happened

The clubs originally identified $64,827 missing since October 2017 when Johnson became treasurer of the Gillette Wrestling Club. He became treasurer of the Camel Kids Wrestling Club in June 2018.

In late August 2019, the Camel Kids Wrestling Club had gathered evidence about Johnson’s alleged personal use of the club’s debit card, many of the charges made on Amazon and at Walmart. The board confronted Johnson about the charges and he allegedly admitted to spending the club’s money for his personal use, according to an affidavit.

He agreed to pay back the $11,000 that the club thought at that time was missing. But board members decided to report the embezzlement to police instead after learning he also was allegedly embezzling from the Gillette Wrestling Club, according to the affidavit.

The Gillette Wrestling Club discovered Aug. 31 that its account at Wells Fargo Bank had been closed because it was overdrawn. Board members also learned he’d drained a different account at Campco Federal Credit Union and had opened a new account at Pinnacle Bank with a $4,000 donation to the account, and it was in arrears, according to the affidavit.

The Camel Kids Club believes that the thefts began about a week after Johnson was elected treasurer. A board member was alerted to problems in May 2019 when a Casper hotel called to report that it hadn’t received payment for rooms that were reserved for an upcoming event. Johnson said he would take care of it. But it still hadn’t been paid a few days later when the board member got a second call from the hotel, according to the affidavit.

She began to investigate and found fraudulent charges that totaled $11,170 on the club’s debit card in August.

But as the club continued to investigate, it found more money missing, according to the affidavit. The money generated from two raffles and registration fees also came up short. The total deposited should have been at a minimum $63,180, but only $47,000 had been deposited, a difference the club attributed to cash payments.

Between the debit card payments and the short deposits, the club figured it lost $26,650.

For the Gillette Wrestling Club, the board found $30,167 worth of fraudulent withdrawals from two bank accounts, which were spent on a variety of things like contact lenses, a city utility bill, Amazon orders and hotel rooms at tournaments.