POCATELLO — Bill Winn, president and owner of Advanced Industrial Supply, told Sixth District Judge Robert Naftz he didn’t buy into the idea that the purchasing guns, ammunition and storable foods out of fear of an impending apocalypse was Darwin Knight’s primary drive in embezzling more than half a million dollars from his company.
Winn estimated less than 25 percent of the $547,000 Knight admitted to embezzling from Advanced Industrial Supply was spent on the survival items. He told Naftz that more than $440,000 of the funds absconded went toward other things.
“Clearly there was more important uses for the money since the apocalypse items are just a small portion of the money stolen,” Winn said.
Knight, who served as Advanced Industrial Supply’s financial controller, was charged with six felony counts of embezzling funds from Winn’s company in September. He was accused of stealing the funds by writing checks to himself over a period of at least seven years.
He pleaded guilty to three counts in November as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors who dismissed the other three counts. They also agreed to recommend 10 years probation for Knight during his sentencing with an underlying sentence of three years fixed and three years indeterminate.
Knight agreed to pay $547,000 in restitution.
Winn’s comments about Knight’s use of the stolen funds came during that sentencing on Monday as part of the victim’s impact statement, a lengthy statement that took Knight’s former business partner about 10 minutes to complete.
During that statement, Winn described the “sweet deal” Knight received when he became a partner in the company more than seven years ago. He said Knight was sold 25 percent of the shares in the company, valued at $200,000 for half their face value and was allowed to purchase them over time. Even though he was paying on the shares, Knight was afforded all the benefits of being an owner of Advanced Industrial Supply, including dividends.
In May, as Knight’s longtime indiscretions were seemingly coming to light, he stopped taking a paycheck, Winn told the Journal last week. Without the income, Knight missed three consecutive payments and his shares, which served as collateral for the purchase, were taken back.
Winn told Naftz that Knight did all that he did, writing some 176 checks to himself over seven years, despite an annual income of more than $200,000.
Winn said that Knight could never make him whole again and pressed the judge to imprison his former partner, saying that probation was just too light of a sentence.
“Not even a casual observer would think 10 years probation is a penalty for stealing over half a million dollars,” Winn said. “It seems more like an incentive. I urge the court to impose the full weight of the law on Mr. Knight.”
Ian Service, Bannock County deputy prosecutor, told Naftz that with the agreement in place, he was recommending that 10 years probation with the underlying sentence of three years fixed and three years indeterminate.
Knight’s attorney, Donald Harris, told Naftz he understood Winn’s position, but also said his client’s actions could be attributed in part to ongoing mental health issues, which he said included depression, for which Knight has been taking medication for more than a decade. He told Naftz they were not blaming the condition for Knight’s theft, but that it was a significant contributing factor.
“He is a troubled man with issues,” Harris said. “But those issues are best resolved in the community. He is not a risk to the community.”
He said Knight currently worked for a local company but had a pending job offer in Idaho Falls that would allow him to earn more money.
“We believe, as did the prosecuting attorney’s office, that the only real way to provide restitution is to allow him to work,” Harris said.
Knight, when speaking in his defense, was brief, saying he was sorry for what he had done and that it was his “intention to repay every penny I can possibly repay.”
Naftz then addressed Knight, asking for clarification to his responses in a mental health evaluation and a presentencing evaluation when asked why he took the money. Naftz wanted to know why Knight never mentioned his fear of the impending apocalypse.
“I was embarrassed about that,” Knight said.
In sentencing Knight, Naftz went through a lengthy explanation of the criteria he is called on to consider during such proceedings. Ultimately, the judge said he could not ignore what appeared to be a calculated scam that was conducted over the course of seven years.
“You basically masterminded the computer system and the accounting system to not only hide from your employer but also from your wife,” Naftz said. “There is no question in my mind that each time you wrote a check you knew what you were doing, stealing from your business partner.”
Naftz then told Knight he was concerned that too small a sentence would minimize his crime.
“Although the state downplays it, I think society needs to be protected from people like you who would carry on a long-term criminal enterprise,” Naftz said. “I think there needs to be some punishment.”
Naftz then sentenced Knight to two years fixed and 10 years indeterminate, ordering that he be sent to an Idaho Department of Correction facility to serve his time. Although there will be a restitution hearing after Knight is paroled, Naftz did order that he pay the $547,000 of restitution.
The hearing will determine just how much Knight should be credited toward that restitution for the survival items he purchased that are now in Winn’s possession. Knight’s attorney also said he believed Knight should be credited for the value of the Advanced Industrial Supply shares taken back by Winn.