Former LDS bishop gets jail, probation for massive fraud

Kevin Palmer

PROVO -- Speaking slowly and quietly on Wednesday, 80-year-old Vernon Erickson told a judge that Kevin Thomas lied to him, then eventually stole a fortune.

"I guess we'll be able to continue living in our home, but I'm not sure about that," Erickson said.

Prosecutors believe that 51-year-old Thomas, a former LDS bishop, stole $281,070 from Erickson, who added during his comments that the crime has forced numerous changes in his lifestyle. Among other things, Erickson said he could no longer afford his insurance policy and can't travel during his retirement years.

"I understand that the chance of any kind of recovery is slim," Erickson conceded.

Moments later, 4th District Judge Lynn Davis thanked Erickson for his comments and sentenced Thomas to a year in jail and 36 months on probation. Thomas pleaded guilty in April to five felonies for communications fraud, theft and unlawful activity, as well as three misdemeanors for theft and vehicle burglary. Thomas originally faced 20 charges spread across three separate cases, but those charges were reduced as part of a plea bargain. Thomas's sentence also requires him to pay back nearly half a million dollars he stole from Erickson and at least four other victims. During the hearing Wednesday, several of those victims sat in the back of the courtroom, watching as Thomas stooped before the judge.

Prosecutor Curtis Larson explained during the hearing that Thomas used his ecclesiastical position to defraud his victims. Larson also said that during the prosecution of the case Thomas sent an eviction letter to residents of an apartment complex owned by his father. The point, Larson said, was to claim the apartment as his own in order to "defraud the court."

Larson added that Thomas has no support from his family, is now homeless and plans to start an Internet business. Larson indicated that the Internet business may simply be another way to scam victims.

Defense attorney Anthony Howell protested against Larson's characterization of Thomas's future plans. Howell described Thomas as a businessman who had the best opportunity of repaying the victims by starting a company. Howell noted that there are many legitimate businesses on the Internet and that Thomas's behavior would be supervised after his release from jail. Howell also asked for a slightly shorter jail term, saying Thomas had taken responsibility for his crimes.

Davis ultimately opted to give Thomas the maximum amount of time possible in jail without sending him to prison. Citing Erickson's comments, Davis explained that protecting society and repaying the victims were his priorities and the reasoning behind the sentence.