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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Ex-Official Gets 120 Days for Job Scam

Court: Former mental health chief Kevin DeWitt is sentenced for using forged documents to obtain the county post. Prosecutor says the term is too light.

March 31, 2000|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kevin DeWitt, the county's former mental health administrator, was sentenced Thursday to 120 days in jail and placed on three years' probation for using a phony doctoral diploma and bogus transcripts to land his high-ranking job.

The 40-year-old Camarillo resident pleaded guilty last month to a single felony count of using forged documents in 1996 to obtain an $83,000-a-year position as the county's deputy director of Behavioral Health.

DeWitt faced up to three years in prison and the possibility of having to repay more than $240,000 in wages he earned during his three years on the job.

But Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark was swayed by arguments that DeWitt provided equitable work for the pay he received, despite having counterfeited his credentials to get the job.

"He was a good employee for the county of Ventura and they received value for the salary they paid him," Clark said before handing down the sentence.

DeWitt, currently a $120-a-week gym instructor, was ordered to pay $200 to a state restitution fund. Clark also ordered DeWitt to report to County Jail on May 15 to begin serving his sentence, a term that could be reduced to 90 days.

DeWitt refused comment after the proceeding, deferring to his attorney, David Follin.

"We are pleased with the decision," said Follin, who told the judge that DeWitt was receiving counseling for psychological problems that contributed to his legal troubles. "I believe Mr. DeWitt has been a fine, upstanding individual and he's been getting the help and treatment he needs."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Terence Kilbride wasn't as pleased.

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Kilbride said Clark, at the very least, should have followed recommendations laid out in a probation report that called for DeWitt to serve 270 days in County Jail and pay a $10,000 fine, plus $17,000 in penalties and assessments.

"I feel this is a very lenient disposition," Kilbride said outside court. "The lesson I would learn is if you're going to commit crime, do it as a white-collar criminal--the money is bigger and the sentences are smaller."

That formed the thrust of Kilbride's arguments in court Thursday.

The prosecutor reminded the judge that DeWitt had been convicted of eight bank fraud charges a decade ago after admitting he wrote fake references on loan documents while working as a junior loan officer at a bank in Louisville, Ky.

DeWitt said he created the phony references in an effort to process more loans and please his bosses. The bank lost an estimated $26 million in defaulted loans because of his actions, officials said.

Kilbride said DeWitt subsequently served 90 days in a halfway house, paid a fine and was placed on probation.

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But instead of learning from his mistakes, Kilbride argued, DeWitt lied on employment forms about his previous conviction and gave Ventura County officials bogus university transcripts and a phony 1993 doctoral diploma from the University of Kentucky.

"Mr. DeWitt has been a liar and a thief for many years," Kilbride told the judge. "He's been dishonest in his dealings and he shouldn't get a break here today."

Follin told the judge there was no question that DeWitt was wrong to falsify documents, but said the former administrator had provided excellent work for the county while he was there.

"Mr. DeWitt was a credit to the department and he performed . . . way above average," Follin said. "He put in lots of hours and satisfied lots of people with the work he was doing."

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DeWitt's criminal past was uncovered by FBI agents last year as they conducted an unrelated investigation into improper billings in the county's Behavioral Health Department.

Federal agents were trying to determine whether mental health managers had deliberately defrauded the Medicare program when they found evidence of DeWitt's previous conviction, Kilbride said.

DeWitt, who resigned his job in August, is not accused of playing a role in the Medicare scandal.

As a condition of probation, DeWitt is required to tell future employers about his criminal past. And Kilbride said he believes these revelations have prompted county officials to do a better job of screening job applicants.

"This has been a source of deep embarrassment for the Human Resources Department," Kilbride said. "I think they will be much more diligent in looking at people's backgrounds in the future."

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