Thursday, January 06, 2005

Pulltab sentence irritates state gambling officialAssociated Press

ST. PAUL - For state gambling officials, the light sentence - with no fine - was worse than the theft of $44,000 in prizes by a Northrop woman who sold pulltabs on behalf of the Fairmont Youth Hockey Association.
"This hurts. It doesn't send a message out to other opportunists" against stealing from pulltab games, said Frank Ball, director of alcohol and gambling enforcement in the Department of Public Safety. "The likelihood of getting caught isn't all that frequent."
He was referring to the sentence Karleen Warnick received for one count of felony gambling fraud: four days in jail, 20 days of community service and three years of probation. Restitution was not ordered, but could be in the future.
Ball said the sentence illustrates what he considers a pattern prosecutorial indifference toward gambling crimes.
"It went right to the heart of the integrity of the game," he said, the fairness that players expect when they buy the little tickets that constitute Minnesota's $1.4 billion-a-year pulltab industry.
Prosecutors detailed their allegations of what happened in the criminal complaint that charged Warnick with three felony counts of gambling fraud.
Warnick, 60, owned the building occupied by Harold's Club in Northrop, a tiny town 35 miles southwest of Mankato, and she sold pulltabs on behalf of the hockey association.
In January, state gambling agent James Arlt looked into complaints of fraud in the games and found 435 forged receipts by Warnick for prizes totaling $44,690 from July 2000 through November 2003.
Warnick admitted taking some money from pulltab games to pay business expenses, then repaying it. The scheme broke down as the business slid. She said she opened pulltabs and, if she found a winner, signed someone else's name to the receipt and used the prize amounts to cover money she had taken from the games.
Martin County Attorney Terry Viesselman said he didn't recommend a sentence as part of a plea agreement, but Warnick was evaluated as unlikely to commit more crimes and was in poor health. The charge is similar to felony theft, which generally gets a light sentence, he said.
He said that, while Warnick "was unduly enriched," the judge's concern was that "no one's had a loss yet. She was playing the pulltabs. Her winners, if she hadn't played them, someone else would have got them. The state didn't lose, the hockey club didn't lose."
At Warnick's sentencing last month in Fairmont, District Judge Robert Walker reserved the right to order restitution later. Walker declined to comment because that part of the case is still open.
Troy Timmerman, Warnick's public defender, said Warnick didn't think the amount totaled $44,000, although state investigators "have stacks and stacks of receipts." The question, he said, is "who do you repay?"
Maybe it's the hockey association, which had gotten a complaint about forged pulltabs as early as April 2003, and that was not reported to the state then, said Darla Guritz, the association's gambling manager. The group lost the use of a gambling site. And it could have to repay the $44,000 into its gambling fund.
That's because the state Gambling Control Board doesn't recognize fraudulent prize receipts, the criminal complaint said. It considers them to represent a cash shortage and can make the pulltab-sponsoring group repay the money out of non-gambling funds.
To straighten out its books, the association will need a reimbursement, an accounting adjustment approved by the Gambling Control Board or a combination of both, said Gary Danger, board compliance officer. He said which one hasn't been decided yet.
The association could sue Warnick but, Timmerman said, "the likelihood of her ever being able to repay $44,000 to Fairmont Youth Hockey is nonexistent."
Information from: Star Tribune,
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