Thursday, May 20, 2004

DANVILLE, Va. — A former county administrator was sentenced to nearly 3 years in federal prison and fined more than $1.1 million yesterday for embezzling from a textile hub that has struggled recently with thousands of layoffs.

Sid Clower’s 41-month federal term for fraud and filing false tax forms follows the 17 months he already has served on state charges. Before hearing his sentence, Clower, 52, told U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser that he regretted putting his family and community through the difficulty of a criminal prosecution.

“I certainly do apologize to this court and the public service profession,” he said.

Prosecutors said from 1993 to 2002 Clower stole more than $818,000 in small amounts every month, nearly doubling his $110,000 annual salary as Henry County’s top government leader. Clower’s fine is a total of the embezzled funds and $327,623 in unpaid taxes and penalties being sought by the Internal Revenue Service.

The money, which Clower used for gifts, trips and to support a child he had out of wedlock, was funneled out of the county’s water and sewage utility. He stole the funds by creating a phony company called MB Investments and sending it checks for what he explained to colleagues were secret economic-development projects.

The scheme was particularly debilitating for this rural county along the North Carolina line. Once called the “Sweat Shirt Capital of the World,” Henry County suffered about 10,000 layoffs in the 1990s as factories shuttered and moved away. Its unemployment rate has reached double digits in the past two years.

Benny Summerlin, who took over as county administrator after Clower was arrested in April 2002, said after the hearing he doesn’t think the county will ever get back what Clower stole.

“I hope this ends what has been a sad chapter for us,” Mr. Summerlin said.

In court, Clower sat quietly in a dark business suit, stroking his chin as prosecutor C. Patrick Hogeboom III asked for a penalty that’s stiff enough to warn other officials who might want to “line their pockets.”

“Mr. Clower had a substantial salary, but he squandered that for self-gratification,” Mr. Hogeboom said.

Defense attorney David Damico asked the judge for leniency, noting that the penalties outlined in federal sentencing guidelines have increased since the 1990s, when the majority of the embezzlement occurred. Substantial prison time also would undercut his ability to repay his debt, Mr. Damico said.

“If Mr. Clower were to go to the penitentiary a second time, he’ll have trouble getting work,” he said.

Judge Kiser was not convinced, and he refused to decrease Clower’s sentence because of time already served in state prison.

“It’ll be hard, if not impossible for Mr. Clower to repay this even if he didn’t have the burden of a felony conviction,” Judge Kiser said. The judge gave Clower 41 months on the fraud charge and another 36 months for filing false tax forms. The sentences will be served at the same time.

Clower did not speak with reporters after the hearing.

Since he left state custody last year, Clower has been sending the county checks periodically for $1,000. Combined with other assets, the former administrator has repaid the county about $87,000.

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