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Gambling addict stole $68,500 to cover losses

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

He was looking for one big win, one saving stroke of luck.

Allen L. Southmayd, a 63-year-old Jonesboro man, who worked as a forensics documents expert for the United States Army, stole $68,500 from a documents examiner certifying board in a desperate, 10-month attempt to win one big payoff.

According to documents filed in federal court by Southmayd's attorney, the man is a gambling addict.

He grew up in Portland, Ore., dropping out of high school to work as a day laborer in a warehouse, a plywood mill and as a drawbridge operator until he was drafted in the mid-1970s, and sent to Vietnam.

Southmayd trained in the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, became an expert at handwriting analysis and all the facets of examining questioned documents. He was certified as an expert witness and testified for the Army more than 150 times. He left the Army in 1985, according to his attorney, Collin Garrett. In the late 1990s, living in Texas, his lifelong affection for cards turned into a gambling addiction.

"For a period of time, he was winning a lot," Garrett explained in a memo to the court. "The rush of the action and coming home with pockets full of money added together to create a habit that was hard to break, even when he started losing."

In 2000, Southmayd and his wife, Janice, moved to Georgia and Southmayd took a job as a civilian employee at Fort Gillem. He was, at the time, so far in debt from gambling he had to cash out his Army retirement to pay for everything. He stayed away from the card tables for about a year, Garrett wrote, but lapsed back into his reckless pursuit of luck.

On a business trip to Las Vegas, the handwriting expert won $9,000. He soon started making regular trips to a casino in Cherokee, N.C., driving the 180 mile, one-way trip from his Jonesboro home to Harrah's Casino at 777 Casino Drive.

At the same time, Southmayd began working for the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners. He ran training sessions and conferences, and developed training materials for the certifying board. In 2005, he became the board's treasurer.

In August 2006, according to Garrett, he had lost so many card games, so many bets, that he had "sunk himself into over a hundred thousand dollars of debt, taking out loan after loan, maxing out credit card after credit card" until "his desperation overwhelmed his judgment."

On August 4, using money from his, and his wife's savings account, Southmayd lost $8,000. Unwilling to tell his wife he lost the money, he wrote himself a check from the certifying board's funds.

As the treasurer, Southmayd made a call and transferred funds from a money market account to the board's checking account, writing himself a check for $8,000, according to court documents. He intended, he later confessed, to win the money and pay it back. He knew the financial-shuffle subterfuge wouldn't remain hidden for very long, but he thought he knew his luck would see him through.

Southmayd had "the illusion of control and the belief that events are predictable, both of which stem from a misconception of randomness," according to Bryan D. Price, a psychiatrist who has been treating the 63-year-old, and wrote to the court on his behalf.

Citing inherited biological factors and social factors from his childhood -- though stating that Southmayd is "solely responsible for his actions" -- Price wrote that Southmayd is a gambling addict. He has been receiving therapy since January 2007.

"Therapy aims to correct these cognitive errors," Price wrote. "Unfortunately, forcing gamblers to realize their beliefs are erroneous, produces a great deal of stress, and can be expected to lower self esteem and ultimately induce depressive symptoms."

Southmayd wrote himself a second check for $5,000 in October. By June 2007, Southmayd had written himself 19 checks and allegedly stolen $68,500 from the board's money market accounts, according to a criminal indictment filed by prosecutors in federal court.

"Each trip to Cherokee now became a desperate effort to make one big score," Garrett wrote, "which would allow him to dig himself out of the hole he had dug, and each ... check became easier to write."

Southmayd "violated the trust that had been placed in him by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, by stealing from the board's funds," said United States Attorney David E. Nahmias. "In addition, he cast a shadow upon the law enforcement agency that also employed him in a position of trust."

Arrested in June, last year, the 63-year-old confessed to everything.

He resigned from the Army and the certifying board, turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and said he wanted to plead guilty.

In September, Southmayd filed his plea and his attorney begged for mercy, asking that he only be sentenced to probation and be allowed to do community service. He cashed out his civilian retirement funds and returned all $68,500, plus interest and audit costs. More than $140,000 in debt, with a personal net worth of a negative $70,000, Southmayd declared bankruptcy.

On Monday, he was sentenced by United States District Judge J. Owen Forrester, on a charge of interstate transportation of stolen monies, to three years probation. He was sentenced to spend six months doing community service for 40 hours a week and then, serve six months under house arrest.

"He must now face the consequences of his actions," Nahmias said.

Joyce Lauterbach, president of the certifying board, declined to talk about the case, except to say that she thought the sentence was right.

"The only comment I will ever make," she said when reached at the Internal Revenue Service, where she works as a document examiner, "is that I was pleased with the outcome of the hearing."

Southmayd continues to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment with Price, and has been regularly attending Gambler's Anonymous meetings for the past few months.