Ithaca, N.Y. — A TCAT employee accused of stealing nearly $250,000 from the local non-profit bus company was suffering from an out-of-control gambling addiction, her lawyer says in court records filed earlier this month.
Pamela Johnson, 54, of Cortland, was arrested in April after embezzling roughly $247,000 from the public piggy bank, according to law enforcement.
Johnson now plans on pleading guilty to grand larceny in the second degree, a felony, “in full satisfaction of all charges, with the sentencing left to this court,” her lawyer said in a motion filed Dec. 5.
The lawyer, Frank Policelli, argues that his client should not face jail time to make it “possible for her to continue as a productive member of society, thus making the payment of restitution possible,” according to court papers.
Policelli says that Johnson is essentially a good person who suffered from “compulsive … pathological” gambling problems.
“Whether compulsive gambling can be medically classified an addiction or not, labels are irrelevant; the tragic result is the same,” Policelli says of Johnson.
“Pamela Johnson is a compulsive gambler, a pathological gambler, in layman’s terms, a gambling addict … While most people can gamble responsibly, some people are not able to keep their gambling under control.”
‘It’s been very painful’
As Johnson’s lawyer argues his client should be treated with leniency, TCAT continues to struggle with the repercussions of the former accounts assistant’s actions.
“We have not received any restitution yet,” said TCAT spokesperson Patty Poist on Tuesday, “because it’s still going through the court process.”
Police arrived at TCAT to begin investigating the crime on Friday, March 21.
That caught the eye of TCAT officials who had never heard of the company. They later learned what JTD stood for: “Johnson Tool Design.”
Authorities eventually announced that Johnson diverted nearly a quarter-million dollars into an unauthorized bank account, according to a press release from the Ithaca Police Department. The embezzlement occurred over four years and 65 fraudulent checks, according to court records.
Losing nearly $250,000 has sorely hurt TCAT, according to Poist, the spokesperson.
“We’re a not for profit; we’re heavily publicly subsidized; and we’re in need of funding for bus replacements, for our operations, for capital needs,” Poist said.
“So it’s been painful. It’s been very painful for our staff.”
Court documents reviewed by The Voice aren’t explicit about how much of the $247,000 Johnson may have gambled away.
But Johnson’s lawyer is clear that gambling is the reason for the thefts.
“She would risk personal and professional relationships and commit crimes to enable her to continue her gambling,” the defense attorney says in court documents.
Johnson would go to an unnamed casino “from a Friday to a Monday,” according to records. Johnson told the probation officer that she “deliberately coded invoices in a way that would be questioned ‘because (she) knew she couldn’t stop.'” Her family was unaware of what was happening.
“It must be understood that Ms. Johnson is not using her gambling addiction to excuse her actions or avoid accepting responsibility for her conduct,” the defense attorney says.
The lawyer also says that “statements from the victims …. should not be a dominating factor in deciding an appropriate sentence.”
“The use of such statements does little to further the traditional goals of sentencing: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and retribution,” the lawyer says.
Dennehy, 41, pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud, admitting he forged numerous company checks over six years. Confronted with forged checks and explicit images of his torrid encounters, Dennehy agreed to plead guilty before the FBI and federal prosecutors took his case to a grand jury for…
Of the $1.7 million that Bexar Waste employee Michael Dennehy embezzled from the company, most of it went to escorts and gambling, he admitted Wednesday in federal court.
His admission appears to have set the unofficial record in San Antonio held by defendants who spent ill-gotten gains on prostitutes or strippers, some observers have noted. Dennehy, 41, pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud, admitting that he forged numerous company checks over six years.
Defense attorney Alan Brown said his client, who is married with five children, succumbed to urges he could not control.
“He did spend it on gambling and on escort services, as the (feds) allege,” Brown said. “I think those are big addictions. He feels remorse and wants to make amends for it.”
Confronted with forged checks and explicit images of his torrid encounters, Dennehy agreed to plead guilty before the FBI and federal prosecutors took his case to a grand jury for indictment, records show. He faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison when Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra sentences him March 9.
An FBI affidavit said Bexar Waste hired Dennehy in 2004 as a truck stocker and recycler. In 2008, he was promoted to a position managing accounts payable and began writing checks to himself of $1,200 to $1,800, depositing them into his personal bank accounts, the affidavit said. He also wrote company checks to pay his American Express bills and began stealing larger amounts of money as time went on, the affidavit said.
He used a stamp to forge authorized signatures on the checks and changed the name of the payees in QuickBooks to conceal that the money had gone to him, the affidavit said. The fraud was not detected until this past August, the affidavit said.
Dennehy’s spending spree eclipsed that of Todd C. Seward, who pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to bank fraud and identity theft and admitted that he spent most of the $400,000 he embezzled from a former employer on strippers.
When Dennehy is sentenced, he likely will be ordered to pay restitution — a tall order given his current work. He’s a self-employed house cleaner.
“He’s trying his best, but it’s hard to get back what you spent at casinos and (on) women,” Brown said.
When Harrah's [now Caesars] discovered under Gary Loveman's brilliant guidance determined that 90% of their revenues came from 10% of their patrons, Harrah's targeted, marketed, comped and pursued that 10%.
That's Gambling Addiction without which the Gambling Industry could not survive.
Is Rep. Gingrich saying our legislators and the (PGCB) Pa. Gaming Control Board is policing the compulsive gambling problem in our casinos, if so, where’s the proof. I would like her to give me one thing any of them have done that addresses this problem. The only legislation that has been put forth since our Gaming Law passed in 2004 that addresses this problem is Casino Monthly Statements. The reason it hasn’t passed in the last four sessions isbecause our casino operators/lobbyists have made our lawmakers well aware of the ill-effect these statements will have on the casinos bottom line and that will have a negative effect on state gaming tax coffers.
The Morning Call - December 14, 2014 - Survey says: Taxes will rise under Wolf
Nearly one-half of those polled support legalizing online gaming to raise money for the state. No legislation is pending to allow online gaming, but the idea is being floated, said state Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-Lebanon County, chairwoman of the House Committee on Gaming Oversight.
"Discussion is occurring as a result of the consumer support and the commonwealth's budget revenue challenges," she said.
"While convenience is a key element, the persistent challenge of gambling addiction and abuse may well be magnified since the ability to police the gaming process will be completely different and more complex," Gingrich said.
Casinos ‘BREED’ gambling degenerates who become criminals.
Associated Press - December 15, 2014 - DA: Fired Pittsburgh-area mall manager stole $51K
WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. (AP) — The fired manager of a Pittsburgh-area mall has been charged with stealing more than $51,000 which he then spent mostly at casinos.
Online court records don't list an attorney for 51-year-old John Sabino, of Wexford, who also doesn't have a listed phone.
The Allegheny County district attorney's office on Monday announced that Sabino was charged with theft and surrendered last week.
According to a criminal complaint, Sabino had checks made out to himself for events scheduled at the Century III Mall in West Mifflin. Investigators say the events either never occurred or that vendors who put on the events were paid directly and not through Sabino. He was fired in August when the money was found to be missing.
The DA says Sabino deposited the checks in his bank account and withdraw it at casino ATMs.
This is what happened to Gov. Rendell and the other Pa. pro-casino legislators’ promise back in 2004 of eliminating property tax with Pennsylvanians casino losses? And their promise to save the horse racing industry was a joke. The only way they could have done that back then and in today’s casino gambling world, would be for them to go to a Ben-Hur theme, with chariots, whips, swards, and spears. Go to any horse racing track in our country and you will see very few patrons under the age of fifty. The new generation of gamblers those under the age of fifty along with those over the age of fifty who have been introduced to casino gambling don’t have the patience to wait for a horse to run around in a circle to get their fix, they need it instantaneously, and that’s what casino gambling does. In other words, comparing horse racing gambling to casino gambling is like comparing marijuana to crack cocaine.
The Morning Call - December 18, 2014 - Auditor general to investigate if Pa. is getting enough tax relief from gambling
The state auditor general's office will audit the operations of the gaming control board next year with an eye on whether the promises of jobs and property tax cuts from gambling revenues panned out, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Tuesday.
The earlier audits found the gaming board did not award contracts for professional services publicly, spent excessively on travel, did not initially investigate new employees thoroughly enough and struggled with turf battles with other agencies over investigations.
The Charlottetown horses are out running in the night.
Not fast: there are no track lights on. You can hear the rhythmic clop of the hooves out there, the harness making soft, rhythmic sounds — the horses occasionally chuckle.
The stables are quiet, with empty sulkies leaning against the wall, their long arms straight up like they’ve surrendered. Seven at night, full dark, an unseasonably warm November wind. It’s outside that strange concept, the racino. Racinos are supposed to help the failing harness business, the peculiar premise being that it’s OK to introduce casino gambling to a sport where there’s already racetrack gambling, like the two are bound to be complementary.
But here, no one but me is watching the horses. You can hear the jockeys talking as the two horses round the track, their voices moving as the horses travel, the horses and sulkies side by side, one man, one woman.
They talk to me when they pass, me only a standing shadow on the rail.
“How are you doin’?” the man calls.
“Hello,” the woman jockey says. The horses look over, their heads held straight but their big eyes cutting over as they pass through the light from the parking lot. The parking lot, with only a smatter of cars, so quiet that you can hear when a man spits in the distance. There’s a sliver of moon, so that you can see the rest of the lunar circle up there, lit only faintly.
Red Shores is a small casino — three blackjack tables, maybe five for poker. One blackjack table’s being used, and one poker table. Everyone knows everyone: one player is going back to work in Alberta at 2:30 a.m. — he’s gambling until he has to pack, unconcerned about the flow of money.
Dealers and staff keep coming over to ask him when he’s going back. That’s the first strange thing: it’s a first-name basis for everyone but me. There are three local doctors playing at the poker table — probably the best place on P.E.I. to choke on a french fry or have a heart attack. Better chances than the slots, anyway.
Maybe it’s different in summer, busier.
Right now, it’s everything that can be wrong with a casino.
Any government that wants to be in the casino business had better be thinking about just who’s going to play — and how to get people from outside their province to surrender cash. Casinos have been pitched in Newfoundland. Others operate in Halifax and Sydney, N.S., and in a highway-side bunker-like room near Moncton, N.B. There’s apparently a First Nations casino in Woodstock, N.B. — I’ve never seen that one. The rest seem to share the same patrons, the exact same sad, long-distance eyes.
The last time one was proposed in Newfoundland, bureaucrats were blunt in their review of the plan.
“…(It) is questionable whether any material fiscal or economic gains could be achieved, or whether they are worth any social policy trade-offs. Citing past practices in other jurisdictions where casinos have been established, the proponent concedes that a casino would attract few additional tourists to the province and that the majority of its patrons would be residents. … As gaming is largely a discretionary spending item, revenues generated by a casino may be offset by a reduction in Atlantic Lottery Commission revenues or from other expenditures.”
Has tithing the Charlottetown regulars saved the racetrack? Maybe. But only by recycling local dollars that would be spent anyway, the government happily taking its cut while arguing that casino gambling is just an innocent bit of fun, not an inescapable tax on the eternally hopeful.
The horses vanish into the dark again. One makes a typical sound with its lips, a wet and rubbery burble. Not a whicker, more derisive than that, almost dismissive.
Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic Regional columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Hhis column appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays andSaturdays on this website.
A comment was posted by "Steve Norton" in response to this article [posted below]...it would seem it's the very same Steve Norton of Atlantic City Fame who apparently never saw the underage gambling and much else. And is that the Steve Norton whose racino filed for bankruptcy to avoid its commitment?
On the right side is a list of categories. Click on Steve Norton to view some of his history.
Steve Norton has been a Snake Oil Salesman forever!
[Great Book BTW: "TEMPLES OF CHANCE How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business" by David (Cay) Johnston. New Jersey closed its eyes to a great deal as long as the $$$ rolled in. As you know, David Cay Johnston has written extensively on financial/economic issues and his writing are well researched, heavily footnoted. Simply breathtaking! Ya wanna know how/why the NJ Gambling Commission ignored Trump's Money Laundering under Steve Perskie's Chairmanship? If that the same Steve Perskie that dazzled the Massachusetts Gambling Commission who were too lazy to conduct even a simple google search?]
FBI Special Agent in Charge Vincent Lisi, head of the FBI's Boston office, takes questions from reporters during a news conference, Monday, Dec. 15, 2014, in Boston. Lisi, whose office covers Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, said he's concerned the expansion of casino gambling might lead to an increase in public corruption and financial and organized crime. The American Gaming Association, which represents the gambling industry, said Lisi's concerns were off base but the group hopes they opens the door for a more constructive relationship with the FBI going forward. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) (Steven Senne)
The American Gaming Association is taking issue with the FBI in Boston warning that the proliferation of casino gaming will bring renewed issues of public corruption and organized crime to Massachusetts.
At a press conference held on Monday in Boston, Special Agent Vincent Lisi said the expansion of casino gaming creates "fertile ground" for a slew of criminal problems, most notably public corruption cases as "you have a heavy amount of regulation, along with a lucrative business."
The AGA, a trade group representing the gambling industry, took issue with the FBI's assertions that Massachusetts licensing up to three casinos and a slots parlor will create such a public integrity crisis to necessitate it launching a "Stop Corruption Now" awareness campaign.
"As casino entertainment has expanded in a safe and beneficial manner to countless communities across the United States over the last twenty years, tired stereotypes of public corruption and organized crime have been proven false," said AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman in a statement.
"The American Gaming Association and our entire industry are committed to working with law enforcement to ensure the integrity of our product, the safety of our customers and the best interests of the communities in which we do business," he continued. "We hope these unfortunate comments will open the door to a more constructive dialogue and a lasting partnership with the FBI in Massachusetts and beyond."
In Massachusetts, the state's 2011 Expanded Gaming Act which paved the way for casino gaming required that companies wishing to do business here be vetted to eliminate any potential bad eggs among the group.
The Mass. Gaming Commission put each casino company and its executives through an investigative process and each of the companies which have been licensed were put on the spot over a variety of topics ranging from the actions of past employees to doing business in Macau, China. In the end, Caesars Entertainment withdrew its application and now is suing the state. The commission determined Ourway Realty, which owned the Plainridge harness race track, was unsuitable to do business in Massachusetts gaming.
Since then, Penn National Gaming took over that project and was licensed for its $225 million Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor in Plainville; MGM Resorts International was licensed for its $800 million resort casino in Springfield and Wynn Resorts was licensed for its $1.6 billion resort casino in Everett.
Of the three, only Wynn has had issues regarding peripheral criminal implications as joint owners of the land it is to develop are charged with trying to hide that a convicted felon stands to profit from the property transaction. Additionally, a recent New York Times report that Wynn was under investigation by the IRS led to the state gaming commission to probe the matter.
This story was amended on Thursday morning to clarify that Caesars Entertainment pulled out of the application process.
Most US gaming jurisdictions have an enviable reputation of keeping undesirable investors and individuals away from their casino industry. You have to go back to Nevada, prior to the 60's to find any mob involvement in legal casino gaming. Governor Grant Sawyer eliminated mob investment in Las Vegas in the 1960's. In New Jersey, under the leadership of ex Prosecutor, Governor Brendan Byrne, it was tougher to qualify as an operator, investor or supplier of an Atlantic City casino, than any other position in government or business in the United States. And states like Massachusetts, have followed suit, with detailed investigations of operators, and soon executives, suppliers and investors. The new FBI anti corruption tip line will get very little action from the casino industry, as too many eyes are already watching every financial transaction. The FBI will find its attention more deserved in other industries.
But a compulsive need to gamble is not just a bad moral habit, said Marc Richman, assistant director of Community Mental Health and Addiction Services for the state. It's a risky, uncontrollable urge.
Though gambling contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's budget, it has the power to destroy a person's fortune, and also their well-being,
"We know from the science that folks who have gambling addictions look very similar to those who have other addictions. I know it is a relatively young science, but there's more and more attention being paid to it now," Richman said.
Though a person may not be physically ingesting an addictive substance, he or she is still getting high, Edgar said.
"When the gambler is in action it doesn't matter if they are winning or losing. It's the doing that causes the dopamine rush," she said.
Edgar, Richman and Arlene Simon, executive director of the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, give us the rundown on what gambling addiction is and how to get help.
How does someone become addicted to gambling?
"What makes a gambling addiction such an insidious addiction, I think more so than drugs and alcohol, is you don't see it. You know someone is drinking and you know they are doing drugs.
Unfortunately (with gambling) most times you get to totally rock bottom before you look for help," Simon said.
Simon also lived with a family member with a serious gambling addiction.
"I lived with this person and had no clue whatsoever. You couldn't do anything. That person hits rock bottom," she said.
A gambling addiction can be genetic as well, as can heroin or alcohol addiction.
"I won't put myself in a gambling situation because I know I am a sitting duck," Edgar said.
Gambling addictions often co-occur with other mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse, Richman added. That can cause an individual to become dysfunctional.
Lately, Edgar said that counselors with the council have found that most gambling addicts have a history of loss that initiates the gambling. People turn to gambling as a release after they've lost a job or a loved one. Most often it's after experiencing a death, Edgar said. A lot of older women see a casino as a place where they can be treated with respect and can feel like they are in pleasant company.
"Where else is a person who is 70 going to go for entertainment," she said.
It's become a serious problem with senior citizens, added Simon.
"They are lonely. They get entrapped in gambling so innocently and it's very difficult because they are so embarrassed. Consequently many of them are up against the wall," she said.
Edgar's quick to note, though, that the council is not anti-gambling.
"Gambling is entertainment. There's only a small percentage of people who get into trouble," she said.
What are the signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction?
Edgar said that council asks people to answer these questions if they are worried they have a gambling addiction:
• Do you play longer than you intend?
• Are you spending more money than you intend?
• Are you using money that should be used for necessities?
• Are you maxing out your credit cards?
• Are you preoccupied with it?
• If you don't do it do you feel bad?
If a person answers most of those questions with a 'yes', they have more than just a fondness for gambling.
Money drives the addiction.
"One thing we know is you cannot drink yourself into prosperity, but people think you can gamble yourself into prosperity," Edgar said.
One of the symptoms of gambling addiction is "chasing." People will bet more money to see if they can win back the money they lost. Compulsive gamblers also are motivated by the thought that they can break even or come out from under the money rut.
They may start to solicit family members for money or steal money to feed the addiction. As with any addiction, people will begin to be withdrawn, depressed and secretive. Family members may think a spouse or loved one is having an affair.
"You don't go to sleep, you don't overdose. People ruminate on what happens. You've taken money that doesn't belong to you, gone to (a casino) and blown it all," Edgar said.
"The depression is phenomenal. How do you recover $100,000 that you owe? You've lost your home. You've lost everything."
A person cannot escape that reality.
"With alcohol you eventually pass out; with gambling that doesn't happen," she said.
On top of that, relationships tend to be unmendable once financial ruin is involved, added Richman.
"In some cases relationships are so disrupted and damaged that the individual needs tremendous support and the support is not there anymore. If you burn so many bridges, how can you expect the supporting network to stay," he said.
Yes. People become anxious, depressed, distressed and irritable.
"You feel like you can chew on the counter. You want something, but don't know what you want," Edgar said.
Who is addicted to gambling?
"Gambling, like substance abuse, crosses over all socioeconomic status," Richman said. "It's across the board."
Gambling can detrimentally affect anyone, but Edgar said that married, employed white males, usually between the ages of 40 and 60, come in for treatment.
Is there a difference between problem gambling and gambling addiction?
Up until last year, compulsive gambling was characterized as an "impulse control disorder" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible for mental health professionals, along with compulsive hair pulling and pyromania.
Now in the latest edition it is considered a substance-related and addictive disorder, which Edgar sees as great progress, and said will change treatment in the future.
"It's not just a matter of impulse," she said.
People may go through a period where they choose to go to a casino and bet some of their weekly earnings, but it's not necessarily pathological gambling.
"A problem gambler is someone who gets into a situation where it creates difficulty in their life, where it interferes. If they decided they are not going to do it, they can do that," she said.
If you have a gambling addiction, you can't just shut down the urge.
"Well, wouldn't that be easy if we can just turn it off?" added Richman.
What treatment is available for someone with a gambling addiction?
The Delaware Council on Gambling Problems offers up to 20 sessions of counseling with no cost to the person. People can also seek help through private practice or through Gamblers Anonymous.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective, Edgar said.
Therapy can be one-on-one or in a group setting. People can discuss triggers, how the gambling has affected their families and issues that exist alongside the grambling such as drinking. There's no specific medication for gambling addiction, but a person can take antidepressants or medication for anxiety.
Richman said it's not yet known whether prescribed opiate treatments like suboxone and methadone would help curb a gambling addiction, like it can do for heroin.
"Anybody can quit anything for a brief period of time. Doing it alone is very, very difficult," she said.
Rebuilding trust within a family is crucial. And going forward, families have to understand that gambling is an addiction, not just a bad choice, emphasized Simon. Like with any addition, gambling is a family disease.
"There's hope. People do get better. It's a matter of sustaining treatment and continuing to get therapy and support," Richman said.