Months after firing, Richmond man challenges accusations of theft at Keeneland

gkocher1@herald-leader.comSeptember 17, 2010 

RICHMOND — Larry W. Wilson was fired by Keeneland in May 2009 after he was accused of taking more than $700,000 that was supposed to go into cash machines at the racetrack.

The case has been investigated by federal and local authorities, and it remains open. Wilson, his friends and his family have been questioned on numerous occasions, and a federal grand jury has heard testimony.

But Wilson has not been charged.

"I never took one dime from Keeneland," Wilson said as he sat at the kitchen table of his home during an interview this week with the Herald-Leader. "Here I am. You think I did it? Come and get me. Arrest me."

Wilson, 49, was responsible for servicing and maintaining 18 automated teller machines at Keeneland. That included transferring money from a vault as necessary to fill the ATMs. He had previously worked as director of security for a vendor that provided ATM services to Keeneland, then he was hired by the track in 2006 when it decided to operate its own machines.

Keeneland says in court records that Wilson was the only person who had access to the money in the machines. Wilson says he was watched at all times, and there were at least two others who had access.

Still, the accusation has haunted him and has seemingly taken over his life.

He is involved in two lawsuits filed in Fayette Circuit Court — one in which he is the plaintiff and the other in which he is the respondent.

Wilson is suing Keeneland and the Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission for denial of benefits.

In the other lawsuit, Federal Insurance Co., which provided insurance coverage to Keeneland, is suing Wilson to recover money that Federal paid to the track for its loss, plus interest, costs and attorney fees.

Keeneland spokesman Jay Blanton declined to say anything about the lawsuits or the investigation.

It's not clear where the criminal case is going.

Wilson said his mother, mother-in-law, brother and daughter appeared before a federal grand jury in Covington in February, but no indictment came.

Neither state nor federal officials would say much about the case.

A spokeswoman for Lexington police said an investigation is open, but she declined to comment further.

FBI spokesman Brett Johnson said his agency had only minor involvement in the case. The Internal Revenue Service did not return calls, and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office had no comment.

"If there was any indication that I took $700,000, why am I sitting right here? I'm sick and tired of it," Wilson said. "They have destroyed our lives. It's time to fight back."

It started with a call

A search warrant indicated that an anonymous person had seen a safe stuffed with cash in Wilson's house and had seen wads of cash stuffed in the glove compartment of his wife's car. Wilson and his wife, Suzie, said there is no safe in their house, and they don't know the identity of the tipster.

"I cannot believe that an anonymous phone call would start all this," Suzie Wilson said. "Our life got ruined by an anonymous phone call."

Lexington police called Keeneland on March 13, 2009, to ask "whether there were any funds missing," according to unemployment commission findings of fact filed in the court record.

About the same time, a treasurer at Keeneland noted some discrepancies in the accounting, according to the commission findings. She compared Wilson's monthly reconciliations against the information on file in the accounting department. She noticed cash withdrawals signed for by Wilson that were not documented or accounted for on his spreadsheet, according to the commission findings.

Wilson said that when he arrived at Keeneland that day, five police officers in plain clothes met him at his car and asked him to go with them downtown to police headquarters. When Wilson asked why, he says he was told, "Keeneland has a million dollars missing, and we believe you're responsible for it."

Wilson was not arrested, but he was put on paid suspension that day while Keeneland conducted an internal investigation.

Suzie Wilson says Lexington police searched the house that day with her consent and again April 16, 2009, with a warrant in hand. The house was searched again in July 2009, after the U.S. Treasury Department obtained a warrant, according to court documents.

During the search, court records say, Wilson was told he was being investigated for "money laundering." "No cash was seized or found," according to the unemployment commission findings.

'I'm still here'

Accountants hired by Keeneland determined that $786,080 was lost from June 30, 2006, when Wilson was hired, to March 13, 2009, when he was suspended, according to unemployment commission findings. During the course of the investigation, Wilson was interviewed three times by the accountants and an attorney.

During those interviews, Wilson "acknowledged there may have been times he had withdrawn funds from the vault which he failed to document, but that he had always been able to reconcile his spreadsheet," according to the commission findings. Wilson never reported any cash discrepancies to the track, the findings say.

Wilson told investigators that his only other sources of income were from his wife's employment, gifts from his mother-in-law and unreported gambling earnings from Keeneland.

According to court documents, Keeneland dismissed Wilson on May 12, 2009, for violating its code of conduct, specifically by committing "theft or inappropriate removal or possession of Keeneland property or funds" or "negligent or improper conduct leading to damage of employer-owned property." Wilson's direct supervisor and a controller also were fired.

After his dismissal, Wilson applied for unemployment. A referee for the unemployment insurance commission initially approved Wilson's request for benefits. But Keeneland filed an appeal, saying Wilson was discharged for reasons of dishonesty.

During a commission hearing in March, Wilson said any cash deposits shown on his January 2008 bank statement would have come from his tax refund, his Christmas bonus and money that Wilson's 19-year-old son gave him to pay his son's bills.

Wilson said he took care of the checking accounts for his daughter and for his son and daughter-in-law. He also handled student loans for his daughter. "I've always done that for them. I'm still doing it for my daughter," he said.

The commission findings say that Wilson testified at one hearing that he received about $40,000 from the sale of vehicles and auto parts, but he did not provide any documentation. He also testified that he received and deposited about $27,000 in cash from his son, $36,000 from "his unemployed college student daughter," about $9,000 in gambling winnings and about $10,000 from his wife. He provided no documentation for any of this, according to the findings.

Wilson also testified that he received and deposited about $54,000 in cash from the sale of 53 firearms and accessories, most of which were from the alleged sale of assault rifles, the findings say. Because he is not a federally licensed firearms dealer, Wilson did not complete or file transaction forms, and he did not provide any purchase or sales receipts, the findings say.

Wilson said he has bought and sold guns for cash without receipts for years.

He maintained in court records — and in an interview earlier this week — that he did not steal any money. During a 2009 meeting set up by defense attorney Jimmy Dale Williams of Richmond, a polygraph examiner asked Wilson three times whether he had stolen money from Keeneland. He answered "no" each time.

Examiner Robert Pybas said that in his professional opinion, "there were no responses indicating deception to any question listed here."

For his part, Wilson just wants it all to end.

"Here it is September, and I'm still here," he said. "If I go to jail, I will go to jail as an innocent man. I will not say that I've done something that I did not do."

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