PA Drilling Executive Embezzled $9 Million to Feed Gambling Addiction

A former executive of a Pennsylvania drilling company has been sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzling millions of dollars in order to satisfy his gambling habit.

Larry Dean Winckler, 54, funneled $9 million from Falcon Drilling LLC into his own accounts, perpetuating the fraud for eight years. Winckler, who cofounded the company, was ordered to pay back the multimillion dollar sum, plus $1.2 million in back taxes to the IRS.

Winckler served as the COO of the firm and garnered a salary of $260,000 a year; he once received a bonus of $1.2 million.

The 54-year-old took responsibility for the theft and told the court that his son’s diagnosis with severe autism played a part in his desire to gamble. Prosecutors, however, pointed out that Winckler hadn’t spent the cash on treatment for his son, and instead bought luxury goods like diamond encrusted Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty jewelry. He also purchased a hunting camp and spent millions at the casinos, playing games like high-stakes $100 slot machines.

US Atty. Gregory Malucci called the fraud an “uncontrollable train of embezzlement that left a trail of disaster behind it.” He added: “It knew no limitation in the pace with which it moved,” and revealed that the embezzlement had started in 2004 and went on until 2012, when the scam was uncovered.

Unlike many fraud cases, Winkler still holds a moderate amount of assets which will be forfeited, like Rolex watches, expensive jewelry, the hunting camp, and a bank account holding nearly $500,000.

Also involved in the scheme were Cheryl Diane Brooks, who helped the COO steal $5.4 million, and Daniel Pikel, who assisted in laundering $3 million. Brooks served as secretary to Winkler, and pleaded guilty in January 2013. She has also sold assets and forfeited a vested pension as part of her deal.

Pikel was a car mechanic who assisted in the scheme by cashing checks for bogus invoices. He too pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

New bill takes on problem gambling

In January, a bill was introduced to the Pennsylvania legislature which would try and curb gambling addiction by forcing casinos to close early. HB 165 would shut down such businesses from 2 AM to 6 AM and is cosponsored by State Representative Will Tallman. Opponents believe that the bill would add another roadblock for gambling operators, who are already forced to compete with a growing number of casinos for sliding revenue.

Problem gamblers also have the option to prohibit themselves from entering casinos by signing up with the state government’s self-exclusion program. Some 7,778 Pennsylvania gamblers have opted into the program which forces casinos to eject anyone found on the list. Individuals can sign up and block themselves for a year, five years, or for life.