PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man who stole more than $1.4 million from two Pittsburgh-area companies and lost most of it in an overseas online romance scam was sentenced Thursday to two years in federal prison.
Jeffrey Plimpton, 59, pleaded guilty in August to wire fraud for stealing the money from Alpha Aromatics, a fragrance business, and Pestco Professional Services, an Alpha subsidiary. As Alpha's controller, he oversaw the finances of both companies.
Plimpton had begun stealing about $80,000 to pay his mortgage and credit card bills when he met someone online he believed to be a woman, public defender Linda Cohn said. He was conned into sending money overseas, supposedly as an investment in a business venture that he believed would earn money he could use to repay Alpha, she said.
The bulk of the money he stole — about $1.39 million — was lost in the online romance scheme, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shardul Desai said.
"It's something beyond naive," Cohn told U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer. Still, Cohn said Plimpton was easy prey after his wife of more than 25 years divorced him. Plimpton's ex-wife accompanied two friends of Plimpton's to the sentencing, but she didn't address the court.
Desai wanted Plimpton to get 33 to 41 months in prison in accordance with federal guidelines driven largely by the amount of money stolen. Cohn sought a probation sentence, saying the longer Plimpton is free the more time he'll have to work and repay the money.
"Mr. Plimpton fully acknowledges what he did was illegal, and he's ashamed," Cohn told the judge. "He is willing to and wants to pay this restitution back."
One of Alpha's insurers has covered more than $465,000 of the amount stolen. A second insurer notified the court Thursday that another $300,000 might be covered as well. That won't matter to Plimpton, who's on the hook to repay the entire amount, though some money will now go to the insurance companies. He's already repaid $50,000 by selling his house.
The thefts were discovered in an internal accounting review last December. Plimpton was fired, and he confessed to company officials and, eventually, the FBI, that he took the money, Desai said.
Plimpton, who has since moved to Southaven, Mississippi, honestly believed the overseas money was to be invested by a woman he met online, Cohn said. As such, she argued Plimpton benefited from only the small fraction of money he stole to pay his bills.
"He's still different than someone who takes the money and buys cars and buys houses with this money," she argued.
But Desai noted, and Fischer agreed, that money Plimpton stole due to the online romance — as fraudulent and misbegotten as it may have been — was still meant to benefit him, if only by wooing the "woman" he believed he'd met online.
Plimpton offered to help federal authorities track down that person, but authorities told him that would be next to impossible, Cohn said. Some of the money was wired to Malaysia, and authorities haven't been able to trace it.