James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

Former conservator admits stealing $120K to feed gambling habit

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 28, 2014 - 3:17 PM

Former conservator Stephen Grisham said he does not know the exact amount that he stole from people under his control, but he and prosecutors agree it was in the neighborhood of $120,000. Grisham, 53, now faces a presumptive sentence of 24 to 36 months in prison after pleading guilty Monday to a single count of misappropriation by a fiduciary, a felony.

The conviction stemmed from Grisham's role as a professional caretaker of the money and lives of vulnerable adults. In this case, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated Grisham for embezzling benefits for unnamed veterans and other beneficiaries.

"I took money that wasn't mine to feed another addiction," Grisham told U.S. District Judge John Tunheim. Tunheim asked the nature of that addiction, and Grisham said, "Gambling." He said he made no attempt to hide the thefts, which began in 2012, and admitted them once his staff discovered the theft in June 2013. Yet the criminal information filed by prosecutors indicates the misappropriation continued through the end of 2013.

On July 13, I wrote about the costly untangling of the mess left behind by the collapse of Alternate Decision Makers, Inc., the company founded and run by Grisham.

Grisham revealed that since October 2013, he has been working as a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines. A sentencing date has not been set. Tunheim allowed Grisham to stay remain free until then under a $25,000 unsecured bond, but required him to stay out of casinos, refrain from working as a fiduciary and alert the probation office if his job takes him out of the country.

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