HAMMOND | Fifty family members, longtime friends, former podiatry patients, neighbors, business associates and political leaders have written letters to a federal judge in support of former Lake County official Tom Philpot seeking leniency as he faces sentencing on five counts of embezzlement.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Philpot, who served multiple terms as Lake County clerk and coroner, was convicted Aug. 3, 2012, of embezzling $24,000 from county government by illegally giving himself salary bonuses between 2004 and 2009 while serving as clerk. He took the money from a federal fund earmarked to improve the collection of court-ordered child support payments.
Philpot didn’t testify at his trial, but his defense team argued he was the victim of an honest mistake and bad legal advice. He returned the money after receiving a second legal opinion that the bonuses were improper because they weren’t approved by Lake County Council.
On Thursday, U.S. District Court in Hammond released the letters written on Philpot’s behalf, which include one penned by his wife, Anne Marie Philpot. In her letter to Judge James T. Moody, Anne Marie Philpot states, “My husband made a mistake and quickly acted to correct it before there was a criminal investigation. I love my husband and I know he did not do anything intentionally wrong, let alone criminal.”
Philip Gavrilos of G.M. Contractors wrote that Philpot (who was once a practicing lawyer and podiatrist), is now working for him doing physical labor … “working on my vehicles, cleaning the shop, demolition, board ups, steel fabrication.” He asked the court to consider probation, home detention or work release as alternatives to prison time.
In his letter, Highland Town Council President Bernie Zeman suggested Philpot’s medical skills be put to use in a community service sentence at McAuley Clinic. He described Philpot as a friend for 10 years and the person responsible for getting him into politics.
North Township Trustee Peter Auksel’s letter described Philpot as someone who “possesses a great deal of integrity and constantly strives to make sure he is doing the right thing.”
Also coming to Philpot’s defense was Lake County Jail Warden Brian Jones, who said Philpot is a “standup guy who’d give you the shirt off his back.” He added, “I plead, beg and pray you consider his flawless record prior to these proceedings.”
Kelly Buckley, Philpot’s personal secretary while county clerk, said he saved the county more than $1 million through new operational efficiencies in the office.
Philpot is seeking to overturn his conviction on the grounds he didn’t have a fair trial, according to court records.