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Former Ziegler treasurer Ryan Thorpe leaves the Federal Courthouse following his arraignment on Thursday in Benton. Thorpe is charged with federal wire fraud and embezzlement charges following a grand jury indictment earlier this month. He 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 who has been indicted on federal embezzlement charges after allegedly stealing more than $300,000 from the city, pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday.

Randy Patchett, representing Thorpe, told Judge Leona Daly his client would be waiving a formal reading of the indictment, which accuses Thorpe of three counts of wire fraud and two counts of embezzlement from a local government. An audit released last week said that Thorpe allegedly stole a total of $315,890.94 between Jan. 1, 2013, and Aug. 31, 2017.

Daly asked Thorpe if he had gone over the indictment with his attorney, however Patchett interjected.

“No, judge. We just got it,” Patchett said, later telling the newspaper he had entered appearance in the case a few days prior to the hearing.

Daly asked Thorpe if he understood the charges against him, to which he replied, “Somewhat.” Patchett said Thorpe primarily had questions about the wire fraud charges, but added that he would explain them to him.

Daly then approved the government’s bond restriction request. Daly told Thorpe he was to maintain or seek employment, report any contact with law enforcement to the U.S. Probation Office, he was not to possess any firearms and was not to seek a passport. She also told him he was not to seek any new credit without prior permission. She said she was releasing him on recognizance bond with these stipulations.

Thorpe’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Dec. 26 with a final pretrial Dec. 12. 

Each count of wire fraud carries 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.

After the hearing, Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell said he was surprised by the not guilty plea.

“I’m actually shocked that Ryan pleaded not guilty,” he said, adding that the city will let the process play out.

He said the entire situation is still “surreal.”

“I can’t believe it, but it did happen.”

As for the financial status of Zeigler, Mitchell said he anticipates receiving Saturday a $100,000 check from Brad Cole, representing insurer of the Illinois Municipal League.

“$315,000 is our loss, but $100,000 would help us catch up on some of our local vendors,” he said.

Looking back at just how someone would have been able to steal about $315,000 from the city, Mitchell said the numbers weren’t always easy to see. He said the ebb and flow of late bills — Thorpe allegedly would write his name in the payee line for checks supposed to go to local vendors, falling behind temporarily in their payment — made it difficult to catch. Mitchell said to be a few months behind on bills in the city of Zeigler could be $300,000, explaining that because of this, their financial strain during Thorpe’s alleged theft did not feel out of the ordinary.

With pension costs and rising insurance costs, Mitchell said small governments are likely to think their cash problems may be external as opposed to an internal leak.

That said, Mitchell explained that the city is in no danger of defaulting. He said it does not have any outstanding loans.

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Franklin, Perry and Saline counties.

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