A 43-year-old Abingdon man who admitted to stealing thousands of dollars of copper wire from his employer and selling it as scrap to feed an addiction to slot machine gambling was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison.
Steven Allen Gilbert was so consumed by a need to play slots in Delaware - an addiction his wife shared - that he stole from his employer of 15 years to stay "financially afloat," according to testimony and court documents.
The constant gambling drove the couple to pawn whatever they could for money and left them deep in debt - so deep they almost lost their house, Gilbert's wife, Judy, told Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley.
"The gambling literally destroyed us," she said. "It took everything from us."
Gilbert's "willful, deliberate and premeditated decisions to steal" from the Jessup-based street lighting division of Asplundh Tree Expert Co. probably came from the "stranglehold" gambling had on him, Dudley said before imposing the prison term.
But it also created a "mess," he said.
"It's not the first case and won't be the last where a gambling addiction has taken down ... the whole family, and that's a tragedy," Dudley said.
Dudley told Gilbert he would reduce the term to one year if he paid full restitution, but the amount was in dispute yesterday and the judge did not rule on the figure.
Gilbert, the former general foreman of the Jessup division of Asplundh, was the second person sentenced in the long-running scheme, which was discovered in late 2002.
Gilbert's assistant at Asplundh, Joseph F. Kimmerle, 36, of Dundalk was also sentenced last week in Howard Circuit Court to three years in prison.
Both men had previously pleaded guilty to felony theft by scheme.
Yesterday, prosecutor Lynn Marshall said Gilbert was the principal player and Kimmerle the accomplice in a series of thefts from the company, which has street lighting maintenance contracts with the state of Maryland and with the city of Bowie.
Over more than a year and a half and beginning in the spring of 2001, she said, the two men stole more than 500,000 feet of copper wire worth more than $370,000 from the company.
Gilbert's lawyer, Joseph Murtha, disputed those figures and said he believes the loss was closer to 89,000 feet of wire worth $75,000.
The thefts were discovered after a private investigator - hired by Asplundh to look into discrepancies that turned up in an audit - interviewed the two men. Both confessed and were fired, according to Marshall and court documents.
Marshall said that Gilbert repaid the company that had repeatedly promoted him over 15 years and paid him a $90,000 salary by violating its trust. She asked Dudley to impose a term of seven to nine years.
State sentencing guidelines recommended a range from probation to six months in jail, but Marshall said facts of the case - and the trust Gilbert "abused" - called out for a stiffer penalty.
"He stabbed them in the back," she said. "The only way he can repay the debt is to go to jail. The only question is for how long."
Gilbert, who had no criminal record, asked Dudley for a "second chance."
"It's been such a hard road, and a hard lesson to learn," he said.