Former St. Jude Medical executive Bryan C. Szweda admitted Tuesday to stealing more than $35,000 from his employer, under a plea deal that likely will keep the former vice president out of jail on felony theft charges.
Wearing a black suit in Ramsey County court Tuesday, Szweda, 41, admitted to lying on expense reimbursement forms to get the medical-device company to cover personal expenses like concert tickets, Timberwolves season tickets and a birthday party at a go-kart track. Szweda also admitted to creating invoices for a business called PIT Productions.
“So essentially you created a false invoice and pocketed the money?” prosecutor Tom Hatch asked of the PIT Productions invoices.
“Yes,” said Szweda, a vice president of operations at St. Jude until September 2015.
Szweda faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for five counts of theft by swindle from St. Jude Medical. Under the plea deal Tuesday, Szweda pleaded guilty to a single count and will work 500 hours of community service “for low-income people” and pay restitution of $117,090.
Defense attorney Andrew Birrell said Szweda will have a stayed 21-month prison sentence while on probation, but he will not serve any jail time.
“For Bryan and his family, living with these charges for the last 18 months has been very stressful. The agreement today allows them the chance to move forward with their lives,” Birrell said.
Szweda said he had no criminal history that would increase his sentence from a guideline range. “Both parties believe I do not have any criminal history points, but in the event they are wrong, and the guilty plea results in a commit to prison, then the sentence would be at the low end of the guidelines,” Szweda’s guilty-plea petition says.
Szweda admitted Tuesday to stealing more than $35,000 between August 2013 and January 2014. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop four other counts of stealing more than $5,000 during different periods of time, though the restitution he agreed to pay reflects the full amounts at issue in all of the charges.
A sixth count of theft of trade secrets from St. Jude Medical already was dropped before Tuesday’s hearing.
The probable-cause statement used to arrest Szweda in September 2015 said he used to work for competing medical device maker Boston Scientific, but was ultimately asked to leave for making “bad purchases.”
Szweda then went to St. Jude, where between 2010 and 2014 he received more than $140,000 through fraudulent means including falsifying expense reimbursements and misusing his company American Express card.
The expenses included $2,000 to rent a suite at the Lady Antebellum concert at the Target Center. That expense was submitted as “room rental” for a quarterly company meeting, but St. Jude recovered e-mails that showed the charge was actually for the costly country music performance.
Also included was a $571 expense at an indoor go-kart track in Maple Grove that was submitted as company hospitality. Investigators concluded that only one other employee was invited, and e-mails and calendar entries showed the party was on the same day as Szweda’s wife’s son’s 16th birthday party.
Szweda acknowledged both expenses, as well as more than $5,000 for Timberwolves tickets and more than $1,400 for PIT Productions, in court Tuesday. The original probable-cause affidavit listed many other expenses that were not spelled out in court on Tuesday.
Szweda’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 24.
In an e-mailed statement, officials with Abbott Laboratories — which acquired St. Jude Medical in January — said they were pleased with the outcome of Tuesday’s plea hearing.
“We are pleased this case is resolved, and thank the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and Ramsey County attorney’s office for their attention to this matter,” the company statement said.