Ex-sergeant gets 5 yrs. for embezzling $51K from PD

By Dave Hughes
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FORT SMITH, Ark. — A former Van Buren police sergeant was sentenced Thursday to five years in federal prison after having pleaded guilty last year to embezzling almost $51,000 from his department over 3 1/2 years.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson also fined Miklos Molnar $3,000 and ordered that he repay the $50,997 stolen from the department's evidence room. Molnar, however, paid back the money in July, shortly after the theft was discovered.

In sentencing Molnar, Dawson said, "It was a violation of the public trust that has and will continue to cause irreparable harm" to the Police Department.

He said some of the money Molnar, 48, stole could have been used to make undercover drug purchases to take more dealers off the streets. He said Molnar's actions had a "significant impact on drug prevention." Molnar, a 20-year Van Buren police veteran, pleaded guilty in August to a charge of embezzling money while working as an officer or employee of the government.

Molnar was a narcotics officer for the Police Department and a member of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's drug task force.

He was suspended July 2 after he told Van Buren Police Chief Kenneth Bell that he had taken money from the evidence room.

Bell, who said he considered Molnar a personal friend, testified during the sentencing hearing that he confronted Molnar after Crawford County Prosecuting Attorney Marc McCune told Bell that Molnar was slow in producing drug money evidence when it was needed for court.

McCune waited for weeks for Molnar to bring in $19,000 that Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell had ordered returned to a court defendant.

Bell said he told Molnar to bring the $19,000 to him immediately, but Molnar said that the money was gone.

Later, an FBI investigation and a legislative audit determined Molnar took $50,997 from evidence in 14 cases.

On the stand Thursday, Molnar said he took the money because he was behind in paying bills and that things got out of control.

Shedding tears on the stand and his voice thick with emotion at times, Molnar apologized for his actions and said he was ashamed.

"I lost my family, my career. I can't find a job," he said. "It has ruined my life and I know I'm responsible." He asked Dawson for leniency because of his long career in law enforcement. Dawson said he could have sentenced Molnar to up to 10 years in prison and fined him up to $250,000.

In sentencing Molnar, Dawson said he made an upward departure in the federal sentencing guidelines because Molnar had violated a fiduciary trust. But he also gave Molnar equal credit for accepting responsibility and for having paid back the money.

Molnar was allowed to remain free on a $10,000 bond until he reports to a federal prison on March 10.

While testifying Thursday, Bell said the department conducted its own audit of the evidence room after discovering Molnar's embezzlement and found another $9,061 missing in eight additional cases. Molnar denied taking that money.

After the hearing, Bell said the department conducted a complete audit of the evidence room over two months. He said it may never be determined what happened to the missing money.

He also said he didn't know Thursday how the department would replace the money.

"It was an error on our part," Bell said. "Live and learn."

Copyright 2009 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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