Ex-Jabil exec won't go to prison

By Scott Barancik
Published November 21, 2006

TAMPA - Patrick Henry Stewart, a Tampa executive who blamed the antidepressant Paxil for his embezzling, won't be going to prison after all.

Stewart, who methodically stole $1.8-million from ex-employer Jabil Circuit over a two-year period before a subordinate caught on, was sentenced Monday to 12 months of home confinement and five years' probation. The U.S. Attorney's Office had recommended he spend 41 to 51 months behind bars.

U.S. District Court Judge James Moody Jr. said it served no one's interest to send Stewart, a father of two young girls and an older stepdaughter, to prison. He also said he believed the 42-year-old's last-ditch medical claim that he was not wholly responsible for his crime. Studies show that Paxil can cause people with bipolar disorder - Stewart's case was recently diagnosed - to behave in bizarre, arrogant and uncontrollable ways.

Stewart, who declined to be interviewed, smiled after the verdict was delivered and shared hugs with his tearful family and friends. "It's a good day at our house," his wife, Leslie, said.

But the mood was dour on the opposite side of the courtroom, where Jabil executives and prosecutors shook their heads in disbelief. Stewart, a finance professional who had check-writing responsibility, discreetly cut 179 Jabil checks to himself or his creditors. A civil court judge recently awarded the company triple damages in a separate lawsuit.

"We believe the wrong message was sent to our employees, our shareholders and the public with this sentence," Jabil spokeswoman Beth Walters said later. "We will move on knowing that Pat Stewart is a convicted felon."

In August, Stewart agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud charges in exchange for the U.S. attorney's recommendation of a reduced sentence. Last week, however, attorney Kevin Darken requested a further reduction based on the Paxil defense. The argument was bolstered by testimony from three psychiatrists, including the psychiatric research director of the University of South Florida medical school, that Stewart probably knew his actions were wrong but was unable to control them. Family members and a neighbor said Stewart changed significantly after taking Paxil.

In siding with the defense, Moody rejected a number of counterarguments. According to prosecutors:

- Stewart originally claimed that he began embezzling because he was angry over a broken promise. A Jabil supervisor who had pledged to boost Stewart's salary 33 percent to $120,000 later reduced the increase to 6 percent, plus a one-time bonus of $15,000.

- Though Stewart supposedly wasn't in control of himself, he practiced deceit, including concealing the true payee on some checks; lying about the scope of his fraud when first confronted; and, after being fired and escorted from one Jabil campus, insinuating himself into an office at another campus and accessing the company's check-writing system.

- Examples of Stewart's supposedly aberrant behavior, described in last week's motions, were exaggerated. Stewart did drive a John Deere lawn mower from Home Depot to his Hunter's Green house, but he drove on the sidewalk and the store was just 1.1 miles away. And Stewart's out-of-nowhere trip down the Amazon was actually a side jaunt after a business meeting in Brazil.

Though Stewart's home and other assets will be forfeited, he apparently will keep his new job.

After the St. Petersburg Times reported in July that Stewart's post-Jabil employers were unaware of his legal troubles, a magistrate judge ordered him to confess. His boss sent a letter to Judge Moody.

"Since he was hired in April 2006 as controller, Pat has become a very valuable employee of Kitchens Direct," wrote Tony Zanoni, the Sarasota company's owner. "I would like you to know that if Pat is not sentenced to prison, he will still have his job."

Scott Barancik can be reached at barancik@sptimes.com or 727 893-8751.