Edmonds, WA Man Sentenced to One
Year in Prison
For Wire Fraud, Embezzlement from Non-Profit Sea Cadet Program
March 17, 2018
(SEATTLE, WA.) -- A 49-year-old Edmonds, Washington man who defrauded the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC) of more than $77,000 was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to one year in prison, three years of supervised release and $75,525 in restitution, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.
In November 2017, Michael Noel Leighton was convicted following a four-day jury trial of four counts of wire fraud and one count of embezzlement. At the sentencing hearing Thursday U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly said “There was a lot of money that was spent improperly for personal items, for this defendant’s own personal use.”
“Fraud always undermines trust – in this case, with respect one of the cornerstones of our communities – our nonprofits,” said U.S. Attorney Hayes. “Those who volunteer their time and hard earned funds deserve to know that they will be put to good use. Those who abuse that trust deserve to be held to account."
According to records in the case and testimony at trial, in 2011 Leighton volunteered to become a training officer for a local NSCC unit based in Skagit and Snohomish Counties. In this role he was to organize and implement training opportunities for teen-aged students, called Sea Cadets.
The program was funded by federal grants from the U.S. Navy to the NSCC. In addition, the Sea Cadets and their parents paid fees to participate in the programs. Leighton and a family member had control of the bank account for the program. Between October 2011 and December 2012, Leighton withdrew thousands of dollars for his personal expenses including meals, gas and the purchase of firearms and firearms accessories -- purchases not allowed under the program.
The Naval Sea Cadet Corps asked Leighton for audit reports and receipts for his spending. In response, prosecutors say he provided fraudulent reports, attempting to cover up his illegitimate spending. When the new volunteer leaders of the group took over they discovered items purchased with the funds were missing.
In a storage locker they found a few inexpensive furniture pieces, several uniforms, and camping gear. The expensive cameras, copiers and computers, as well as a number of firearms that Leighton had purchased with NSCC funds were missing.
The case was investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seungjae Lee and Stephen Hobbs.