NEW CASTLE — The owners of a now-closed New Wilmington car dealership told a judge that a Hermitage man’s elaborate swindle put them out of business and cost employees their jobs.
As a result of the alleged misappropriations of their funds, New Wilmington Motors, founded in 1924 as Wagner Motors, closed and employees lost their jobs, she and her husband said in court Tuesday.
Both Gary L. and Cynthia Butch of Grove City offered victim-impact statements before Lawrence County Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto during a sentencing hearing for Jeffrey Michael Huey, who was charged four years ago with 140 alleged offenses, 47 of them felonies.
Huey, 52, of 1980 Parkview Drive, Hermitage, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, and no contest to a misdemeanor charge of misappropriation of entrusted funds.
Motto sentenced him to two years in the county’s intermediate punishment program with the first 60 days on house arrest, followed by two years of probation. He also is to have no contact with the victims.
Part of the plea arrangement had been for Huey to repay $360,000 to Gary Butch, which he did before Tueday’s proceeding, according to Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo Wagner, who prosecuted the case.
“In my opinion, this man deserves incarceration, Cynthia Butch said Tuesday. “The $360,000 is probably one-third of what he took.”
New Wilmington police filed charges against Huey in 2015. Of those, 47 counts were held for court at his preliminary hearing. All but the two offenses to which he pleaded were dismissed as part of a plea agreement with the state Office of the Attorney General.
The police and an accounting firm had audited the dealership’s financial records and discovered that the business had lost a minimum of $764,635.62, including money that salesmen had been shorted on their commissions, according to court papers.
The investigation found no evidence that any customers were defrauded, the police reported in a criminal complaint. But the business encountered financial difficulties and was sold in 2014 as a result of Huey’s alleged actions, and it no longer was run as a Chrysler dealership.
According to the court documents, Huey had been the dealership’s general manager from January 2009 until he was fired in November 2012 after the financial and accounting irregularities were discovered.
In his position, he was responsible for daily operations that included maintaining business records, managing accounting, approving and/or posting financial accounting transactions and determining commissions paid to salesmen for selling vehicles.
Motto’s sentencing followed a tearful apology by Huey to the Butch family. He choked up as he told the judge that he is an honest man and has been working without problems for another car dealership, Scheidemantle Motors, based in Hermitage, for the past seven years.
As Huey broke into tears, his defense attorney, Christopher M. Capozzi of Pittsburgh, held his arm.
New Wilmington police Chief Carmen Piccirillo said before Tuesday’s hearing that the big portion of the money that was gone from the company was from falsely created profits, where Huey allegedly received 50 percent of the company’s profits plus his salary.
“He was taking in six-figure bonuses,” alleged Piccirillo, who investigated the case.
Huey’s arrest in June 2015 followed an investigation that began in December 2012 after the owner of New Wilmington Motors told police of uncovering financial and accounting irregularities that caused the company a significant financial loss.
The prosecuting attorney related the discovery that money was improperly booked into the company’s ledgers and how credit card accounts showed income with no receipts to match.
“Some records were incomplete and incorrect and didn’t reflect what was brought in by the company,” she continued. “Salespeople weren’t getting their commissions that they were entitled to for selling vehicles.
“Ultimately, this business went under,” she said in presenting the plea agreement. “It couldn’t recover from the financial hit, and the employees lost their jobs.”
Butch bought the then-56-year-old dealership business in 1980 from the founding Wagner family of New Wilmington.
Gary Butch told the court that the dealership was well-funded from the time he assumed control of it. He said the biggest loss was to the families who lost jobs “because of Mr. Huey’s greed.”
The 10 employees all were in place when he bought Wagner Motors, he said, relating that every time he did an audit and something wasn’t right, Huey would blame the employees and they were let go.
Butch said he agreed to the plea arrangement presented Tuesday, because the case has gone on for four or five years “and it was time to end it.”
The wife speaks
“He concocted an elite scheme from day one to steal from the corporation,” Cynthia Butch told the judge. She alleged that Huey took from a secretary, who eventually left the company, then he cried because she was leaving. He offered her a house and cash to get her to stay, she said.
“I could talk until Christmas and all year,” she told the court, of Huey’s misdeeds at the company. “Every single department in that dealership was tainted with Mr. Huey’s theft.”
Huey, standing before Motto, said that he “used bad judgment,” and blamed the funding losses on “taking on more than I could handle. I should have hired a controller.
“I do not live my life out of greed,” he said, “nor do I measure my successes by how big my bank account is.”
He apologized to the Butch family “for the pain I’ve caused them,” saying, “I’m sorry for the friendship of 20 years that I lost.
“I’m a trustworthy person. This is not the man that I am.”
Huey’s family and friends and current employer were in the courtroom, but none stood to speak in his defense. His attorney read a letter from his current employer, who reported that he was a trustworthy employee.
Motto said he was bound by the state sentencing guidelines on the two misdemeanor counts to which Huey entered a plea. Even though the original common pleas court filing was for 47 counts, including multiple felonies, Motto said they could not be considered in sentencing because Huey did not plead to those charges.
But the judge said he believed, however, that Huey’s crimes called for a sentence more strict than probation because of the amount of money involved.