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Friday, August 15, 2014

Waldbusser sentenced for bank fraud in Iowa

Former Wells Fargo bank manager Nicholas Waldbusser was sentenced Thursday to 21 months in prison for bank fraud.

Judge Sara Darrow said the theater enthusiast's passion for acting likely helped Mr. Waldbusser conceal a $200,000 embezzlement scheme. She described the 26-year-old man as charismatic, well-liked and intelligent -- but also manipulative of people's trust.

"You were able to draw upon your acting skills to deceive other individuals," she told Mr. Waldbusser.

In April, Mr. Waldbusser pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court, Rock Island, to one count of bank fraud in exchange for the dismissal of 14 similar counts. On Thursday he was ordered to repay approximately $197,000 in stolen funds -- the result of 18 months of embezzlement from the Wells Fargo branch at 4218 Avenue of the Cities, Moline, prosecutors said.

As branch supervisor, Mr. Waldbusser kept track of bank funds and was responsible for the audit process, which he manipulated in order to disguise the thefts, prosecutors said.

Calling his actions "a series of almost daily mistakes," Judge Darrow said she felt obliged to use Mr. Waldbusser as an example to deter others from similar crimes. She ordered him to self-report Sept. 22 to start his sentence, adding she would recommend an in-state minimum security men's prison.

Mr. Waldbusser spoke briefly in court to thank family and investigators who worked on the case.

"I have learned my lesson," he said.

At the start of the hearing, prosecuting attorney Don Allegro expressed frustration at what he perceived were excuses -- including depression, anxiety and struggles with self-identity -- given by the defense for Mr. Waldbusser's behavior.

"He lived a lavish lifestyle," Mr. Allegro said, citing drugs, vacations, prostitutes, basement renovations and expensive suits Mr. Waldbusser bought with swindled funds. Mr. Allegro also said authorities found $1,900 in cash under a mattress when they raided Mr. Waldbusser's home.

Mr. Waldbusser may have been a "nice guy" without prior criminal history, Mr. Allegro said. "But how much money do you have to steal before you get sent to prison -- not because you're a bad person, but to send a message?"

Mr. Allegro advocated for a nonspecific amount of prison time. He said he believed that, had Mr. Waldbusser not been caught by Wells Fargo security, the thefts would have continued.

He said Mr. Waldbusser also conspired with a bank teller to help in the scheme, but authorities chose not to prosecute the teller who no longer works at the bank.

Mr. Waldbusser's attorney, Federal Public Defender George Taseff, asked Judge Darrow not to make his client's case about going after "the Enron's and the white-collar guys." That was a fight for lawmakers, he said.

Mr. Taseff said the recent death of Robin Williams renewed a national dialog about depression faced privately by many performers. Mr. Waldbusser had been "living in a way that was destined to crash and burn. It was unstable," he said, adding his client is seeking counseling.

Mr. Taseff scrolled through a slideshow of pictures in the courtroom depicting Mr. Waldbusser in high school and local theater productions. They included a copy of a May 2011 article from The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus in which Mr. Waldbusser was interviewed about his role in a community show.

"I love creating a person that is fictional and that nobody knows," Mr. Waldbusser was quoted as saying. "I love to tell a story; that's what theater is, creating a story and telling it live."

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