A former manager of the city-owned arena, once considered “a rising star,” was sentenced Monday to 24 months conditional discharge for stealing public funds—a punishment less serious than that requested by the state.
Curtis Webb was convicted in August of taking money from the U.S. Cellular Coliseum, now known as Grossinger Motors Arena. The theft of about $2,100 was discovered in 2016 by VenuWorks, the Iowa firm hired by the city to manage the facility.
According to the charges, Webb used a company debit card for personal expenses during the several months he supervised the arena in mid-2016.
In imposing the conditional discharge, Judge Bill Yoder rejected the state’s request for four years probation, a higher level of punishment for the offense.
But for the fact that taxpayers were the victims, the theft case would likely have been filed as a misdemeanor instead of a felony, said Yoder.
The judge raised no criticism towards the state's attorney's office for filing the more serious charges. The loss of public funds justified such a move, said Yoder.
The judge maintained that the longstanding public debate on the fiscal sustainability of the arena also may contribute to how people view the theft case. Add to that debate the filing of felony charges against five other former managers of another firm that supervised the facility before VenuWorks and it is understandable that people may seek stiff penalties, said Yoder.
“I don’t think I can let public opinion sway my opinion as to what’s right and just in this case,” said Yoder.
The judge noted Webb still faces felony charges in Beltrami County, Minnesota, related his alleged mishandling of more than $100,000 while he was employed by VenuWorks in Bemidji.
Defense lawyer Shaun Cusack renewed Webb’s contention that the state failed to prove the former executive intended to permanently deprive VenuWorks of the money.
After the sentencing, Cusack said “the judge did a good job of looking at this man’s life.” Webb had no criminal record and is unlikely to ever reoffend, he added.
Assistant State’s Attorney Aaron Hornsby argued to Yoder that Webb’s prior repayment of the funds “does not negate the earlier theft.”
Webb, 48, was “a rising star” within the VenuWorks, said the prosecutor.
Speaking in Webb’s defense, former co-worker Jane Everhart told Yoder that Webb’s goal as manager was to “right the ship and do something great with that building.”
Webb was an honest person and hard worker, said Everhart.
Yoder fined Webb $75 and ordered him to complete 100 hours of community service.
VenuWorks reimbursed the city about $40,000 in expenses related to the case. Webb has repaid $1,045 of the total $2,195 sought as restitution.