PITTSBURGH — Jan 23, 2015, 5:08 PM ET
By JOE MANDAK Associated Press
The former chief operating officer of a western Pennsylvania drilling company was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for embezzling $9 million to feed his casino gambling habit, which included playing $100 slot machines.
Larry Dean Winckler, 54, was ordered to pay $9 million in restitution to Falcon Drilling LLC, of Indiana County, which he co-founded with the company's former owner. He must also pay the Internal Revenue Service $1.2 million in past-due income tax on the money he stole, plus interest and penalties.
U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry refused the defense attorney's request to let Winckler report to prison in a few weeks. Instead, Winckler had to take off his tie and belt so he could be handcuffed and led from the courtroom as several family members burst into tears. They declined comment afterward.
McVerry told Winckler he found it "somewhat mystifying and un-understandable" that Winckler stole the money while being paid $260,000 a year, plus a $1.2 million bonus one year when the company changed hands.
Defense attorney Martin Dietz didn't comment after the sentencing, but he had argued in a memo to the court that Winckler's life derailed when his son was diagnosed with severe autism as a 2-year-old in 2004.
"I thought I could handle this all on my own, and I was completely wrong," Winckler said, his voice breaking as he wept.
But U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci likened Winckler to an "uncontrollable train of embezzlement that left a trail of disaster behind it."
"It knew no limitation in the pace with which it moved," Melucci added, noting Winckler stole the money from 2004 until the scheme was uncovered in 2012.
McVerry suggested he didn't buy Winckler's motives, noting the defendant didn't use any of the money he stole "to pursue special medical treatment for your son" but instead bought expensive jewelry and a hunting camp, when he wasn't blowing the money at casinos.
Winckler is forfeiting three Rolex watches, diamond-encrusted Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty jewelry, the hunting camp and a bank account containing $481,000.
Winckler told the judge his actions were "completely my fault and I certainly understand what I did wrong." He apologized for hurting the business, his family and two others he enlisted in the scheme.
The first was Cheryl Diane Brooks, of Clymer, who pleaded guilty in January 2013 to her role in helping Winckler steal more than $5.4 million from the company, including $557,000 she kept for herself. Brooks joined the firm as a secretary in 2001 and despite lacking an accounting background became its controller by 2004.
Brooks has cooperated with the government, sold personal assets to repay her debt and surrendered a vested pension. She's scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 20.
The third person charged is former auto repair shop owner Daniel Pikel, who's serving 27 months in prison for helping Winckler launder about $3 million. Pikel pleaded guilty to cashing hundreds of checks for fake invoices, then returning the money to Winckler.