COURTESY MARYLAND HEIGHTS POLICE
White-collar, and occasionally no-collar, criminal Bryan Vonderahe, shown following a 2016 DWI arrest.
A St. Louis County executive who embezzled $3.8 million
was sentenced today to four years in federal prison.
Bryan Vonderahe, 45, lived a wealthy man's life: big house in Kirkwood, expensive SUVs and ski vacations in Breckenridge, Colorado. He financed it by siphoning money from the family-owned business where he worked for more than a decade.
In court today, Vonderahe tearfully admitted to "despicable" acts, blaming his behavior on alcoholism mixed with a serious gambling addiction. His attorney Matthew Radefeld added that his client had been abused for years by a mother, who was also an addict.
"I cannot undo what I did," Vonderahe said. "But I'm working to change my behavior and character so I can use my past to help others."
Vonderahe was the chief financial officer for the Boyd Group, the parent company for a variety of brands such as the Bedroom Store. Starting about 2012, investigators believe, he began embezzling money in a scheme that would last eight years. He was eventually found to have written nearly 500 checks to himself. He concealed the theft by creating a fake vendor and fudging the company's books. When an auditor examined the Boyd Group's finances, Vonderahe provided false information.
He pleaded guilty in October to three counts of wire fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith said Vonderahe may have had addiction problems, but he was fully functioning and shrewd in covering up his long-running scheme. And while it's true he spent a lot of the stolen money at casinos in the Metro East and Las Vegas, that spending was just part of a larger, lavish lifestyle.
"His alcoholism didn't cause him to commit these crimes," Goldsmith said.
Vonderahe's former bosses, Dennis and Carla Boyd, sat in the courtroom with employees. They declined to speak on the record to the Riverfront Times
after the hearing, but Goldsmith noted Dennis Boyd had described Vonderahe's crimes as a "betrayal."
Vonderahe had been part of the company since 2007 and was a popular employee — until a review of tax forms revealed he'd been stealing from and lying to everyone at the Boyd Group for most of his time there. He ran out of the business when confronted, and the Boyds did not see him again until he appeared in court.
Dressed in a dark suit, he told U.S. District Judge Ronnie White he has already begun to change his life. Vonderahe claims he quit drinking eleven months ago and is now active in a treatment program. Over the years, he racked up five convictions for drunken driving.
"Today, I'm an honest man of integrity," Vonderahe said.
After his arrest, the father of three began working as a broker for Houlihan Trading, an Ellisville-based company that sells chicken parts. Radefeld said he makes decent money and plans to repay all the money he stole.
Johnson has ordered Vonderahe to pay $3,841,703.11 in restitution, all but $60,000 of that to the Boyd Group. The judge gave him a slight break on the prison time, sentencing him to three months less than the guidelines, which were calculated at 51 to 70 months.
He'll also forfeit his house in Kirkwood and a 2011 GMC Denali. The government originally planned to take his Range Rover
as well, but decided against it because there was no equity in the SUV.
Vonderahe will be on supervised release for three years when he gets out of prison. Johnson told him if he follows the rules — including a ban on drinking or entering casinos — he should be able to put the incident behind him. The judge added that will probably be harder for the Boyds.
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