BENTON — According to documents, Ryan Thorpe, the former treasurer of Zeigler who is accused of wire fraud and embezzlement after allegedly stealing money from the city, was scheduled to enter a plea of guilty Thursday in federal court, but instead the court kicked the can down the road to March 1.

Defense attorney Randy Patchett said the reason for his motion for continuance was simple — his client needed more time to understand the charges against him.

Related

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 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 the auditor’s report, Thorpe allegedly used Wite-Out to alter the payee line on city checks approved to pay its bills.

Representing the U.S. government, Scott Verseman said Thorpe could face a maximum of 20 years for every count of wire fraud and a maximum of 10 years for each count of embezzlement.

In court Thursday, Verseman did not object to the motion to continue so long as a jury date was also continued, and that the added time did not count against the speedy trial calculation. Judge Staci Yandle granted the motion.

Related

Thorpe similarly claimed he did not understand all the charges against him when he appeared for his initial court date in December.

Judge Leona Daly asked Thorpe then 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.

Zeigler Mayor Dennis Mitchell said he was a bit surprised when he showed up for court Thursday.

“I expected a plea, not a continuance,” Mitchell said, adding that he had used half a vacation day to attend what turned into less than an hour’s worth of proceedings.

Mitchell said Zeigler officials are still finding things Thorpe handled poorly. Two of the city’s police cars were totaled recently. Mitchell said they found out one of those cars was not added to the city's insurance, something Thorpe was supposed to have handled.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said of Thorpe’s failure to act on his responsibility as an officer of the city during his tenure there. Mitchell said after talking with their insurance provider, they agreed to cover the accident. Had they not, Mitchell said it could have cost the city $25,000 for the car plus any medical expenses for the officer involved.

“We dodged that bullet,” he said.

Mitchell said he was given at least some peace of mind knowing that Thorpe will likely plead out.

“If he just admits his guilt, that’s a big step right there,” he said.

Related

The city is still working its way out of the hole Thorpe allegedly dug. Mitchell initially thought the city would be covered for $100,000 each year the illegal activity took place, but found out later that a total of $100,000 is all they would receive. He said they are still figuring out how to recoup the money lost.

As for punishment, Mitchell said he didn’t know that the maximum sentence would be the right call. In his eyes, he said restitution needed to be paid and if Thorpe spent the majority of his life in prison, he wouldn’t be able to pay what Mitchell said he owes.

“You can’t get blood from a turnip,” Mitchell said.

Thorpe will reappear in court at 9 a.m. March 1.

isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports