The wife of a former Hanford manager was sentenced to a year and a day in prison Thursday for defrauding the Department of Energy of $487,000.
Judge Robert Whaley of Eastern Washington Federal District Court gave Anita Gust less than the prosecution requested after her husband, Paul Kempf, yelled and stormed out during the sentencing hearing.
She also will be required to repay the $487,000 she admitted to stealing and that Kempf is accused of taking from the government through fraud. Kempf is scheduled to go to trial May 16.
Kempf previously worked as the operations manager for the Hanford nuclear reservation 222-S Laboratory for former contractors Fluor Hanford and CH2M Hill Hanford Group. Gust operated a company called AMG Marketing out of their West Richland home.
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AMG was an authorized vendor of laboratory supplies for the 222-S Laboratory from late 2000 to late 2005. Kempf is accused of making about 155 federal credit card purchases with Gust during those years, under the guise of lab supply purchases. But AMG created fraudulent invoices for those purchases and did not deliver supplies to Hanford, according to the indictment for Gust and Kempf.
Federal prosecutors accuse Gust and Kempf of converting $487,000 in charges paid by the federal government to their personal use, including $105,000 in personal checks made out to Gust. They also spent $50,000 to renovate a 1966 Chevy Nova, $63,000 on auto and boat expenses, and $17,000 on home improvements, according to court sentencing documents for Gust.
Kempf did the ordering and processing of the credit cards, called purchase cards at Hanford, said Gust's attorney, Shelly Ajax. Gust had no business background, little computer savvy and some reading issues, Ajax said. She did not know how to process a purchase card transaction and did not open the business mail, Ajax said.
"I knew my husband was doing this," said Gust, who was crying so much the judge told her he could not hear what she was saying at one point. But her husband was very controlling and she avoided confronting him to keep the peace, she said.
"Living in my house was walking on eggshells," she said.
She should have left him and raised her youngest child alone, she said.
She was telling the judge that she should have contacted authorities to put an end to the fraud when Kempf yelled from the gallery, "We were in this together!" Then he stormed out of the courtroom.
The defense had asked for home confinement rather than a prison sentence, but the government believed that prison time was warranted, said assistant U.S. attorney Jill Bolton. Gust created the company and was responsible for the banking, Bolton said.
The standard sentencing range was 21 to 27 months in prison, but the U.S. attorney's office had agreed to seek a sentence of 21 months in prison in exchange for Gust pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud with a purchase card, she said.
Whaley said he could see that Kempf was a "domineering partner" from his outburst in court and he noted that Gust had no criminal history.
But he had concerns, he said. A large amount of money was taken and Gust benefited from money spent on a boat and checks written to her, he said. Also, there was evidence of false information given during the investigation, he said.
Gust first told investigators that she did not live with Kempf, but then admitted she did and that she knew he should not be making government card purchases through AMG Marketing, according to court documents.
In addition, when records were subpoenaed, the government received checks that had been altered to look like they were made out to a nonexistent company that sold laboratory equipment of the type used at Hanford instead of being made out to an auto supply company, Bolton said.
Gust told investigators that she helped copy records that were subpoenaed but did not alter documents, Bolton said.
Giving false information to a grand jury is "a serious thing," the judge said.
A prison sentence was warranted, he said. But by making the sentence longer than a year, he was offering her the chance to become eligible for an earlier "good time" release, he said. He also sentenced her to three years probation.
In earlier court documents, Gust asked that she and Kempf serve sentences that did not overlap so one of them could care for their teenage daughter, if both of them were sentenced to prison.
However, Gust now is divorcing Kempf and her daughter is refusing to stay with him, Ajax said.
Whaley agreed to let Gust start her sentence when her daughter's school gets out in June.
Gust was one of seven people indicted last spring for Hanford purchase card fraud. Six pleaded guilty and she was the fifth of those to be sentenced and one of two who has been sentenced to prison.