Family, friends tell court Philpot shouldn’t get prison time
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com February 7, 2013 4:30PM
Updated: March 10, 2013 6:26AM
About 50 friends and family members extolled former Lake County Coroner Thomas Philpot Jr. in letters sent to a federal judge, asking that he not sentence Philpot to prison.
A federal jury found Philpot guilty last summer of illegally paying himself while he was the Lake County clerk from 2004 to 2009 more than $24,000 out of a state fund used to give bonuses to county workers who help collect child support payments. Witnesses said during the trial that not only did Philpot pay himself the money without the permission of his fiscal body, the Lake County Council, but that he paid himself far more than his employees who did the actual work in child support.
The letters sent to U.S. District Judge James Moody depict a generous man, however, who has struggled since the federal government’s investigation into his crime began.
His wife, Anne-Marie Philpot, described his two years taking care of his mother as she eventually died from cancer.
“He fed her, bathed her, kept up her house, took her to the doctor and loved her dearly,” Anne-Marie Philpot said in her letter.
He also helped care for patients who couldn’t afford his services when he was a doctor, helps take care of neighbors’ yards and volunteered to coach youth sports in Hammond and Munster, she wrote.
“Your honor, Tom is far from a greedy man,” Anne-Marie Philpot said in her letter. “He had no desire to use or overuse taxpayer money.”
She notes that he relied on his attorney, David Saks, and deputy, Sandy Radoja, in running the clerk’s office.
Philpot has claimed that Saks told him he had the legal right to the money, but Saks testified during the trial that Philpot only told him to research a state law and never mentioned the child support fund.
Philpot’s wife claims he’s changed since the case started, including becoming withdrawn and starting to drink more, although he has since stopped.
“My husband became the shell of a man he once was,” she wrote. “After his conviction ... he hit an all-time low; he could not even articulate thoughts.”
Philpot, who was forced out of the coroner’s position when he was convicted, now works for G.M. Contractors, where he works on vehicles, cleans and helps in demolitions, his boss Philip Gavrilos wrote. Gavrilos calls Philpot “too honest,” such as refusing to fire an employee because of concern for the employee’s family.
Andrea Callahan, payroll supervisor for the Lake County Auditor’s office, disputed statements made at his trial that he paid himself the money. She noted that his checks were all signed by the Lake County auditor and two Lake County commissioners.
Other local officials also wrote in, including Highland Town Council President Bernie Zemen. Philpot helped introduce Zemen to politics, he wrote.
“When Tom took me out for the first time showing me how to go door to door to meet people, I was amazed at how many people knew him and all in a friendly way,” Zemen wrote.
He suggested that perhaps instead of going to prison, Philpot could contribute to the community by volunteering his medical services at a local clinic.
Philpot’s former legal mentor and retired attorney John Breclaw also wrote in, although he defended Philpot as a poor attorney with little experience who would not have known about the Indiana law barring him from taking the extra money without the permission of the County Council.
“Tom is probably the major reason we need an internship program requiring two years of working for an established attorney,” Breclaw wrote. “Tom lacks the mental discipline to think like a lawyer.”
Philpot, who has asked Judge Moody to overturn his conviction or to order a new trial, is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 21.