Guthrie Theatre Mystery
crime is costly to taxpayers
By Dennis J. McGrath
Rehearsals for the tragedy “Othello” were underway
when the Guthrie Theater discovered that
a mystery was developing in its front office.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars had vanished,
leaving the theater with an unexplained
As in all good mysteries, the thief was
unknown and there were plenty of suspects.
The Guthrie, a Twin Cities cultural icon,
needed the help of police, not an artistic
director, to wrap up this whodunit. On Sept.
22, 1993, Minneapolis police were called.
Sgt. Jerry McFarlane answered the phone. He
listened briefly and invited Guthrie
to come to his office in City Hall. In a
two-hour meeting, the Guthrie employees
described the problem, and McFarlane advised
them to have their accountants scrutinize
financial records to try to find where the
money was leaking.
That first phone call and meeting began
a criminal investigation into a gambling-related
embezzlement case that will end up costing
taxpayers more than $100,000 by the time
it closes on April 25, 2000.
have spent more than $40,000 for the investigation
more than $25,000 for the prosecution and
trial, and will spend about $30,000 to imprison
the person responsible.
motive for the thefts: a Guthrie clerk’s
gambling compulsion that led her to empty
the cash from the theater safe onto the
blackjack tables at Mystic Lake Casino
in Prior Lake, hand after losing hand.
The Guthrie case
is an example of how costly a gambling-related
crime can be for taxpayers, who have been
victimized just as surely as the Guthrie
was. An estimated
$418,000 was stolen, and even after collecting
on its insurance, the theater still lost
more than $100,000. For
every dollar stolen from the Guthrie,
taxpayers will have spent about 25 cents
to investigate, prosecute and incarcerate
the thief. While the complexity of the
crime makes this case more expensive than
most, it is an example of how costly the
investigation and prosecution of a sophisticated
gambling-related crime can be.
perpetrator in this case was Reva Wilkinson,
a $7.25-per-hour accounts receivables
clerk from Cedar who engineered a complex
scheme to divert cash from a Guthrie safe
into her own pocket. Between August 1992
and August 1993, Wilkinson stole about
$418,000 by using checks paid to the Guthrie
to cover the cash shortages in the safe,
according to court records.
The plan worked for months. But when results
for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1993,
showed a $430,000 deficit, Guthrie executives
knew something was wrong.
An internal investigation first pointed
to an embezzlement and months later identified
Wilkinson as the chief suspect.
McFarlane conducted a preliminary investigation
after the Guthrie’s accountants finished
their work. He took formal statements
and drove to Mystic Lake because
Wilkinson had a history of gambling.
His final act was
to meet with the FBI when it took over
the case. The FBI stepped in because Wilkinson’s
husband at the time was Ken Wilkinson,
then Anoka County
sheriff, and Minneapolis police wanted
to avoid any conflict with a sheriff they
routinely dealt with. The Wilkinsons have
In all, McFarlane devoted about 24 hours
to the case, and he called on support
staff to help with the paperwork. Total
cost to Minneapolis taxpayers: $929.48.
At the FBI, special agent Andrew Mento
was assigned the case. The embezzlement
and the mountains of financial records
generated by the Guthrie and its accountants
consumed 1,062 hours of his time in 1994
- more than half of a normal year’s work.
With part-time help from seven other agents,
Mento began the task of determining who
had access to the money and then eliminating
each suspect, said Herb Cousins, the FBI
supervisor who oversaw the investigation.
refused to cooperate, and no one ever
saw her steal money, so Mento had to prove
the case by building a paper trail.
“This was a pretty complex investigation,”
Cousins said. “What she did was pretty
sophisticated in many ways. . . . It was
very good work to uncover it. She wasn’t
giving at all.”
But Mystic Lake’s security cameras provided
plenty of help. Wilkinson was a familiar
face on their videotapes of action at
the high-stakes blackjack tables. She
appeared as many as four or five times
a week, sometimes staying for more than
eight hours, and bet up to $1,000 a hand.
In all, the FBI devoted 1,788 hours to
the case, at a cost to taxpayers of $38,668.11.
The agency spent an additional $1,200
to have Wilkinson’s handwriting and
fingerprint samples analyzed at the FBI
crime lab in Washington, D.C.
"Unfortunately, that’s what it takes”
to investigate a white-collar crime, Cousins
said. “This was not one of our major investigations.”
the FBI built the trail of evidence that
led to Wilkinson, Assistant U.S. Attorney
Frank Magill took the case to a federal
grand jury and got an indictment. On
June 22, 1994, Wilkinson was charged with
embezzling $310,591 from the Guthrie.
Magill calculates that he spent between
200 and 300 hours reviewing the FBI investigation,
presenting the case to the grand jury,
preparing for the trial and arguing the
case in court.
His boss, U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug,
added eight hours overseeing the case,
which commanded considerable media attention,
and Magill also received help
from support staff.
five days of testimony and just 2 1/2
hours of deliberation, the trial in federal
court in Minneapolis ended on Dec. 12,
1994. Foreman Gene Kissner read the verdict:
To assemble a 12-person
jury, federal court officials called 42
people to the jury pool. Of that pool,
14 people were chosen as jurors or alternates.
For each day
they sat in judgment of Wilkinson, the
jurors were paid $40.
That was only part
of the jury costs. The government also
paid for their meals. . Three jurors came
from outside the Twin Cities and were
reimbursed a total of
$848 for transportation. One stayed in
a hotel at a cost of $588 for six nights.
The jury costs would have been higher,
but two of the outstate jurors saved taxpayers
$1,176 by staying with relatives in the
A court reporter
was present throughout the trial, keeping
a record of the proceedings. And a court
security officer, provided through a contract
with a private firm,
was in the courtroom just in case - at
a cost of $10 an hour.
And there was the
judge, James Rosenbaum. In addition to
the time he spent on the bench during
the trial, he also conducted pretrial
hearings and spent time
reading briefs and other documents - a
minimum of 20 hours extra.
There were other
court costs not connected to the trial
itself. Immediately after Wilkinson was
arrested, the federal court’s Pretrial
Services Office conducted a background
check to help a magistrate judge decide
whether Wilkinson should be released on
bail. The office also helped Wilkinson
smooth out some medical insurance issues
- a total of eight hours of work.
After the verdict,
probation officer Pamela McNulty conducted
the presentence investigation, a job that
involves gathering information about the
give the judge a clearer picture of her
life, from her family background to her
finances. McNulty spent between 15 and
20 hours interviewing people, including
Wilkinson, checking records and writing
a report for the judge. That report, when
McNulty’s salary and fringe benefits are
calculated, cost $555.98.
Feb. 24, 1995, two months after the guilty
verdict, Rosenbaum handed down the sentence:
30 months in federal prison, plus three
years of supervised release. Wilkinson
also was ordered to pay $3,000 in restitution.
Normally, Wilkinson would have paid a
fine ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, which
would help defray some of the public’s
costs. But Rosenbaum did not impose a
fine because Wilkinson was broke.
She was taken into
custody at sentencing. A month later,
she boarded a U.S. Marshal’s Service 727
jet in Rochester, Minn., and was flown,
along with other prisoners,
to a prisoner transfer center in Oklahoma
City. That is the national hub for the
Marshal’s Service as it moves 160,000
prisoners a year, according to Kent
Pekarek, division chief of the service’s
prisoner transportation division in Kansas
was sent to a minimum-security prison
in Danbury, Conn. But after 3 1/2 months,
her request was granted to be imprisoned
in Texas, where she has
relatives. She was flown back to Oklahoma
City in July, and then bused to Bryan,
Texas, where she is housed in a minimum-security
prison. The daily cost to taxpayers: $38.01.
Wilkinson is scheduled
to be released from prison on April 26,
1997. But taxpayers’ costs will not end
three years after her release - minus
one day - Wilkinson will be on supervised
release. A probation officer will keep
tabs on her, a cost that the federal government
puts at $195.30 a month. Under Rosenbaum’s
sentence, Wilkinson will pay the government
$80 a month during that period, reimbursing
taxpayers a total of $2,880. Wilkinson’s
sentence also requires her, during her
period of supervised release, to undergo
treatment for compulsive gambling.
This web page is soley my responsibility.
Everyone else is an innocent victim. Except
Mrs. Wilkinson, of course. All original
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