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Former Ziegler treasurer Ryan Thorpe in October leaves the Federal Courthouse following his arraignment in Benton. Thorpe is accused of stealing more than $315,000 from the city over the past four years, writing checks to himself, and then altering records to show payments to approved vendors instead.

BENTON — Ryan Thorpe, the former Zeigler treasurer investigated by the FBI for defrauding the city to the tune of more than $300,000, pleaded guilty to all charges in federal court Thursday.

Thorpe was indicted by a federal grand jury in October on three counts of wire fraud and two counts of embezzlement from a local government. An audit done after federal agents raided city hall this past August revealed that the city was missing $315,000. The charging documents allege that Thorpe took the money between March 4, 2013, and Aug. 3, 2017.

According to Zeigler’s city attorney, Rebecca Whittington, a new grand total was presented to the court Thursday. She said the final figure was $321,399.22. Whittington said he began stealing from the city two months after he began working for it.

According to a news release from U.S. Attorney Donald S. Boyce, Thorpe admitted he wrote checks payable to himself drawn on the city of Zeigler's general account. He concealed those thefts by altering the copies of the checks that were sent to the city each month by the city's bank by "whiting out" his name in the payee section of the checks and replacing them with names of vendors and suppliers that the city did business with, photocopying the altered checks, and entering the altered photocopies in the city's records, then shredding the original checks, the release states. He also submitted false monthly treasurer's reports to the City Council.

As part of his plea agreement, Thorpe agreed to turn over to the city of Zeigler numerous items he purchased with the embezzled funds, including a side-by-side utility vehicle, a utility trailer, a women's diamond ring, numerous firearms, a gun safe and a four-propeller drone. The total value of the property is estimated at $35,872.74, according to the release. He also agreed to forfeit assets to the United States, including a second side-by-side utility vehicle, a portable building, a lot and trailer located across the street from Thorpe's Zeigler home, two retirement accounts valued at approximately $9,000 and a camper, the release states. 

After the property is forfeited and sold, the U.S. Attorney's Office will request that the funds be released and applied to the restitution Thorpe owes the city of Zeigler. The release states that Thorpe acknowledged in his plea agreement that he owes $321,399.22 in restitution to the city, less credits for the value of the items forfeited to the city and the U.S.

Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell said having Thorpe admit guilt did provide some closure for him, but added that the impact from the theft was going to be felt for a long time.

“It doesn’t actually close the case with the city,” Mitchell said. He said the city is still doing last year’s audit, and was denied an appeal for an audit extension. He said because it is late, the state has told him that any funds distributed by the comptroller could be withheld from the city until the audit is filed.

It’s the “gift that keeps giving,” Whittington said.

“It’s almost a weekly basis that we still come across a major problem because of either faulty record-keeping or just total failure to perform,” she said.

She pointed to a recent incident in which the city totaled two of its police cruisers. It was Thorpe’s job to make sure all new city vehicles were put on its insurance.

“He was the risk manager responsible for keeping our liability insurance records updated,” Whittington said, adding that he never added one of the cruisers to their coverage. She said the city also was late in paying its premiums.

“The city had to fork out about $90,000 to pay for back insurance,” Whittington said, adding that after it agreed to make that payment, the insurance company agreed to retroactively add the uncovered vehicle.

Whittington said those bills weren’t paid simply because the city did not have the cash flow. However, in hindsight, Whittington said she believed it would have had that money had Thorpe not been stealing.

“We have our shovels and we are wearing hip waders but we are digging out,” Whittington said of the city’s attempts to find a way through the maze of problems and consequences Thorpe’s theft has caused.

Mitchell said he still can’t wrap his head around what compelled Thorpe to do what he did.

“It wasn’t like he had a child that was ill and had horrendous medical bills,” he said. “Even that wouldn’t excuse it but you could understand it.”

Mitchell said he didn’t talk to Thorpe at all Thursday but imagines he’ll talk with him someday.

“I imagine sometime (I) will and I’ll just ask him, ‘Why,’” Mitchell said.

“He’d probably say, ‘I don’t know.’”

Thorpe will reappear in Benton’s Federal Court at 9:30 a.m. June 12 for sentencing. Mitchell said he was released again on his own recognizance after court Thursday.

Each count of wire fraud carries with it a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and each count of embezzlement comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Thorpe’s change of plea hearing was originally scheduled for last month, but during the hearing, a motion for continuance was granted for the defense so that Thorpe’s attorney had time to completely explain the wire fraud charges to him. Thorpe similarly claimed he did not understand all the charges against him when he appeared for his initial court date in December.


On Twitter: @ismithreports



Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Franklin and Williamson counties.

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