Con artist sentenced for payroll scam
By GRAHAM BRINK
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2001
TAMPA -- James Grant Wagner does not come across as the typical scam artist.
The father-to-be draws a six-figure salary as a sales representative. He's educated and has no previous criminal record.
But now he is headed for a five-month stint at a halfway house, followed by five months of house arrest after his sentencing Friday. He'll also serve three years' probation and pay more than $100,000 in restitution.
Wagner, 33, agreed last summer to plead guilty to a federal mail fraud charge.
He had faced as much as 16 months in prison, but prosecutors did not object to the lighter sentence.
At least for a while, Wagner pulled off a particularly slick scam involving several temporary staffing agencies in the Tampa and Orlando areas.
"He spent money like a drunken sailor," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Mosakowski told the judge Friday.
According to authorities, from July 1999 to January 2000 Wagner used phone books and the Internet to find agencies that provide temporary employees and issue payroll checks for big companies such as State Farm Insurance.
Using a false name, he would then pass himself off as an executive from one of the big companies and tell the agency that a new temporary employee named James Grant Wagner needed to be added to the payroll as, say, an accountant or billing analyst.
He set up phone numbers in several cities so that when the agencies called to verify the payroll addition they would reach "the executive" or at least be able to leave a message for him to call back.
Wagner would then visit the agency pretending to be the employee and fill out the tax forms and other employment records. The agencies would give him a time card that needed to be signed by his supervisor when the work was complete. Wagner would fraudulently fill out the cards.
Thinking Wagner had done the work, the agency would mail the checks every two weeks for a thousand or more dollars.
Acting on a tip, local detectives arrested Wagner last January after he tried to pick up one of the checks.
Wagner's lawyer, Matt Farmer, told the judge that a psychiatrist had diagnosed his client with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from some major business losses. He also said that Wagner had already saved $21,000 to pay some of the restitution. U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday said those factors would not warrant a break on sentencing. Merryday did allow Wagner to report to the halfway house on April 15, a few weeks after his wife is due to give birth.
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