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Ex-controller at Jabil agrees to fraud plea

By SCOTT BARANCIK
Published July 4, 2006


A Tampa man accused of stealing nearly $1.8-million from Jabil Circuit Inc. has agreed to plead guilty to six counts of federal wire fraud.

In a plea agreement Thursday with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa, Patrick Henry Stewart, a former corporate controller for the St. Petersburg electronics manufacturer, admitted misusing Jabil checks over a two-year period for his own purposes, including making payments on a home-equity loan and buying several vehicles.

Though Stewart's charges carry a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed to recommend a significantly reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea and restitution.

Reached at his home Monday evening, Stewart, 42, declined to comment. Attempts to reach his attorney, the prosecuting attorney and Jabil officials were unsuccessful.

The wire fraud charges and plea agreement follow a civil lawsuit federal prosecutors filed against Stewart in September. The forfeiture suit, whose allegations Stewart had denied, described him as a $60,000-a-year financial employee who joined Jabil in 2001, was promoted in 2003, and soon after began a two-year scheme to print or alter more than 120 company checks.

Stewart allegedly used the checks to buy a Nissan 350Z convertible, make $370,000 in credit card payments to American Express, fund home improvements, buy precious metals and other investments, and even pay his property tax bill. The scam went undetected until a subordinate contacted Jabil's internal fraud hotline. Stewart kept each check under $50,000 so that he wouldn't need to obtain a second signature.

Jabil employs about 60,000 people worldwide, including 2,000 in St. Petersburg, and ranks among the largest companies with headquarters in the Tampa Bay area.

The plea agreement requires Stewart to give up his Hunter's Green home, three cars, a motor scooter and the funds in a securities account held in his name. In a March 3 interview, Jabil general counsel Bob Paver said Stewart had already repaid the company more than $1.1-million, mostly in cash but also in hard assets, including a 2.2-pound gold bar and a gold-plated National Rifle Association Tribute Colt .45 pistol.

According to a civil suit affidavit his wife filed May 22, Stewart has been working as a temporary controller under contract with the Tampa office of a staffing company that provides "senior-level financial talent" for assistance with accounting, taxes, internal controls and federal antifraud compliance.

Times staff writer Graham Brink contributed to this report. Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or 727 893-8751.

[Last modified July 9, 2006, 08:54:59]


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