Friday, April 13, 2001

Man apologizes after stealing from society

By Andy Resnik
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A former American Cancer Society executive apologized for his crimes before being sentenced Thursday to 13 1/2 years in prison for stealing nearly $8 million from the charity's Ohio chapter.

        “I want to make clear that words cannot properly express the regret and shame for what I did,” Daniel Wiant said, his voice wavering. “I willingly accept my punishment for the behavior I displayed.”

        Mr. Wiant, 36, had pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in August to bank fraud, money laundering, mail fraud and illegal use of a credit card in thefts that began in 1997.

        “I had six years of exemplary service with the American Cancer Society, all of which has been thrown away by the bad decisions I have made,” he said before being sentenced by Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. “Because of what I did, I threw my life away.”

        Mr. Wiant's wife, Kathleen, wiped away tears with a tissue as he spoke.

        The money he stole has been recovered by the Cancer Society or reimbursed through insurance, said Don McClure, chief executive for the Ohio chapter.

        Mr. Wiant's attorney, Victor Merullo, had asked Judge Sargus for a lesser sentence, saying Mr. Wiant cooperated with investigators and took responsibility for his actions.

        Judge Sargus said he rejected the request for leniency because Mr. Wiant abused a position of trust at the Cancer Society, where he was responsible for all of the charity's banking transactions.

        “In the very real sense, he stole the hopes of the donors. Fortunately, the American Cancer Society is stronger than any one person and the research will go on,” Judge Sargus said.

        Mr. Wiant, who is appealing his sentence, must serve 11 1/2 years before he would be eligible for five years' supervised release, Mr. Merullo said.

        He also must pay about $593,000 restitution to the American Cancer Society and its insurer.

        Without a plea agreement, Mr. Wiant could have been sentenced to 30 years in prison and fined $1 million if convicted of bank fraud.

        Judge Sargus had postponed an earlier sentencing date so Mr. Wiant could be examined by a psychologist.

        The judge said Thursday Mr. Wiant was “not in robust mental health,” but his condition was not serious enough to affect his actions.

        Mr. Wiant was convicted twice in Hawaii and once in Ohio of theft-related offenses. He was hired seven years ago by the Ohio chapter of the Cancer Society as a computer expert. In 1999, he was promoted to the chief financial officer.

        Officials at the society's headquarters in suburban Dublin did not check his police record before hiring him.

        Last May, Mr. Wiant secretly transferred $6.9 million in cancer society funds to an Austrian bank and fled to Europe.

        After being tipped off to the theft by Mr. Wiant's wife, the FBI froze the Austrian account. Mr. Wiant returned to Columbus and was arrested June 9.

        Investigators later determined Mr. Wiant had stolen almost $1 million in additional cancer society money in a series of embezzlements over three years.

        “Without hesitation he chose to steal funds intended to help those with cancer, funds to help save lives,” Mr. McClure testified at Mr. Wiant's sentencing. “His actions affected the good name of one of the world's greatest organizations.”

        Mr. McClure said donations to the Cancer Society increased 17 percent statewide last year, but there was no increase in the Columbus area.

        “This Wiant incident must have had some influence on that,” Mr. McClure said. “Columbus is one of our better income development areas. There were no other obvious explanations.”


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