A former deputy at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia was convicted in federal court on Thursday on four counts of theft, for embezzling over $229,000 from the office’s asset forfeiture fund. Frank Michael Pearson could face up to 10 years in prison for each of the four counts at his sentencing hearing on June 17.
According to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Virginia, Pearson headed the asset forfeiture unit at the sheriff’s office starting in 2006. From around February 2010 and through October 2013, Pearson “embezzled money from 80 separate cases over this period.”
Unusually, in a move more worthy of a soap opera than a legal defense, Pearson claimed he had “no memory of events that occurred after 2001.” But as prosecutors noted in a March 25 memo,
…this alleged amnesia arose one day after the defendant’s supervisor learned that approximately $34,000 that had been entrusted to the defendant could not be found, approximately twelve hours after one of the defendant’s co-workers witnessed the defendant removing boxes of money from his office in the dead of night, and on the same day that the defendant was scheduled to travel to a bank with his supervisor to clear up any questions about the missing $34,000 (which trip to the bank the defendant never took).
Prosecutors also noted that Pearson’s claim “has been evaluated and rejected by two court-appointed experts, both of whom found that the defendant is malingering.”
When the government takes property through civil forfeiture, the money typically funds the budgets of the very law enforcement agencies involved in the seizure. Pearson evidently took the “what’s yours is mine” logic of civil forfeiture to the next level—appropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in forfeited funds for his personal use.
Statewide, between 2000 and 2013, Virginia law enforcement forfeited nearly $30 million under state law and received more than $110 million in federal forfeiture proceeds, according to a report by the Institute for Justice. Earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers rejected a bill that would have required a criminal conviction as a prerequisite to forfeiture.