A 68-year-old Tulsa businessman who bought and sold refined metal alloys was sentenced to prison Friday after pleading guilty to bank fraud and bankruptcy fraud.
U.S. District Judge Claire Eagan sentenced Zealand Benjamin Thigpen III to 33 months in federal prison after listening to pleas that he be spared time behind bars.
In turning away a request for probation or home confinement, Eagan noted Thigpen “seems to blame the bank” for making it easy for him to commit the offenses, which she said caused a significant loss to the bank.
U.S. Attorney Trent Shores charged Thigpen by information Oct. 24 in Tulsa federal court.
The charges alleged Thigpen falsely inflated the value of his inventory to induce Arvest Bank to extend him funds for his business, Julimar Trading, LLC.
Thigpen on Oct. 4, 2016, submitted a fraudulent report to Arvest Bank that valued the inventory owned by his businesses at $5,816,335, according to the charges.
The charges further alleged that Thigpen on Nov. 18, 2016, stated on a bankruptcy petition for his business that Julimar owned inventory valued at $3.3 million, when in fact, he knew it to be valued at only about $12,642.
The scheme caused Arvest Bank to lose about $4,754,488, according to the charges. The Julimar lines of credit at Arvest Bank were guaranteed in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Shores said in a statement that Thigpen swindled millions of dollars.
“He perpetrated a fraud on both Arvest Bank and the Small Business Administration,” Shores said. “While he sits in federal prison for the next 33 months, the United States Attorney’s Office will return his illegally begotten proceeds to the victims of his fraud.
“I commend the investigators from the Department of Treasury and Small Business Administration, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Leitch. They discovered and exposed Thigpen’s scheme, then brought him to justice.”
In a Dec. 14 plea agreement with prosecutors, Thigpen admitted to the two-count charge.
“It was the purpose of my scheme to prolong my business ventures during a period of financial distress,” Thigpen wrote in his written plea agreement.
Thigpen justified his request for probation over prison time, in part by claiming the crime was of limited duration, he was unlikely to reoffend and that he would use time out of prison so that he could more quickly pay the $4.7 million in restitution if he were permitted to travel and have access to a mobile phone.
Thigpen also claimed he has assigned a portion of a multimillion-dollar life insurance policy to the bank and SBA to cover the debt owed. To date, Thigpen has paid $18,000 toward restitution, according to court documents.
However, a prosecutor discounted Thigpen’s claims regarding restitution, noting that Arvest Bank maintains that the most that could be recovered from the insurance policies was $2.5 million.
“Clearly, it is going to take more than a long-term life insurance solution, and more than ‘the ability to travel and access to a mobile phone’ to make the victims whole,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Leitch wrote in a court filing. “Thigpen’s claim that restitution will result from his release from incarceration is simply unfounded in reality.”
The bank fraud charge carried a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Eagan agreed in part to a defense motion, which resulted in a reduction in the sentencing range to 33 months to 41 months in prison.
Eagan also ordered Thigpen to serve five years of post-custody supervised release. He was ordered to report to the designated federal Bureau of Prisons facility by Aug. 22.
An old landfill site breached by floodwaters along Bird Creek at Oxley Nature Center got a closer look by federal, state and city officials. They need to come up with a plan — one that might address more than just one breach site. One thing was clear, however. It won’t be a simple matter.