HAMMOND | Former Lake County Clerk Thomas Philpot was sentenced to 18 months in prison Thursday for stealing thousands of dollars in public child support incentive funds over which he had control.
Philpot, who also served as Lake County coroner, was ordered to surrender April 3 to a federal correctional camp in Pekin, Ill. Federal defendants usually serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, which means Philpot likely will spend at least 15 months in prison.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge James Moody asked himself out loud, why did Philpot, an intelligent, well-trained man familiar with the proper workings of local government commit his crime, and concluded that the evidence pointed to "arrogance, greed and a warped sense of entitlement."
Philpot, 55, a podiatrist and attorney, served 10 years as Lake County coroner and six years as county clerk between 1992 and 2012.
"I apologize to the court and all the citizens of Lake County. I should have been more careful and done more to ensure I deserved these bonuses," an emotional Philpot said during his two-hour sentencing hearing, attended by a number of family and friends.
He also apologized to his family. "The thought of being separated from my son just kills me," Philpot said.
Philpot will be analyzed for mental health and alcohol abuse issues at the request of defense lawyer Kerry Connor. After he serves his term, he will spend two years on supervised release, similar to parole.
Federal prosecutors said Philpot began making plans to pocket bonuses from federal IV-D child support incentive money within months of taking office and taking control of the money.
State Rep. Shelli Vandenburgh, D-Crown Point, who as a deputy under Philpot, testified she warned Philpot that IV-D money was meant only to compensate deputy clerks who performed daily work of recording and accepting child support payments to needy children.
However, Philpot drew up a list of bonus recipients and ordered the money be paid, including $24,000 to himself between 2004 and 2009.
Earlier this week, Moody threw out two felony counts related to bonuses Philpot pocketed prior to 2008 on grounds there wasn't enough evidence to prove he knew taking the bonuses was illegal.
However, he remains convicted of three other theft and mail fraud counts for bonuses after that date because Philpot admitted to his lawyer at the time he thought his supplemental pay might be problematic.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Benson said Philpot violated state law by declining to get the approval of the seven-member County Council to boost his pay with the IV-D money.
Philpot only attempted to get council approval in 2008 and even withdrew that request immediately after Councilwoman Christine Cid questioned the legality of Philpot's maneuvers.
Philpot and his lawyers argue he was misled by an opinion from his longtime attorney David Saks that the IV-D bonuses were legal, but Benson said Saks later admitted the opinion was in error because Philpot withheld important information from him.
Benson adds Philpot also gave large, unnecessary bonuses to a group of favored employees "who did the least for the IV-D program" bonuses to camouflage his own enrichment.
Connors said Philpot already had suffered enough in terms of public humiliation and loss of his public and professional careers.
Philpot's wife, Anne-Marie, said Philpot became so depressed she had to encourage him to even get out of bed and shower, she found him walking in circles in his driveway and that he began drinking alcohol heavily.
She wrote in a letter to the court he has undergone therapy and hasn't had a drink in months.