Wife of Harveys thief sent to prison
An embezzler’s wife sentenced to up to five years in prison Monday became the fourth of five people to be incarcerated in a $1.6 million Harveys embezzlement case.
“This is a case where the court would have to consider the deterrent effect on others,” said District Court Judge Michael Gibbons. “A sentence of probation would send a really wrong message.”
Bailiffs handcuffed Michelle Lawrence, 28, who was out of jail on her own recognizance. She will join her husband, Jason Lawrence, 29, her brother, Stephen Johnson, 22, and her husband’s friend, Glenn Bindley, 29, in the Nevada Department of Corrections.
“Her role, unlike Jason Lawrence, Stephen Johnson, and Glenn Bindley, her role, like Melissa Watts, was that of cashing chips,” said her attorney Eric Johnson.
“After she found out about the scam, her chip-cashing actually dropped dramatically,” he said. “It virtually ended.”
He suggested a punishment somewhere between restitution and incarceration for his client after associate counsel for Harveys, in Stateline, recommended prison time.
The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office and the Nevada Department of Parole and Probation recommended that Michelle receive probation.
Melissa Watts, 23, Johnson’s fiancé, will be sentenced Oct. 5 in District Judge David Gamble’s courtroom. She is charged with compounding a crime and the judge can make the charge a gross misdemeanor or a low-level felony.
Jason, Michelle and Johnson were all sentenced for grand theft for criminal activity between December 2002 and June 2003. Bindley was sentenced for uttering a forged instrument.
Jason is serving up to 10 years in prison, Johnson is serving up to eight, and Bindley is serving up to 32 months.
According to Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Mark Jackson, in reports Johnson described Michelle as greedy and telling him and her husband to get more chips. After the chips were stolen, Michelle, Bindley or Watts would cash them in.
Michelle will be eligible for parole after one year. She was given 18 days credit for time served. Her attorney argued the Michelle had no prior criminal record. He said she nearly completed a journalism degree and has two children to raise.
Gibbons said Michelle should have thought about her children beforehand.
Michelle, Watts and Bindley cashed in combinations of $500 chips at the Stateline casino. At her August arraignment before Gamble, Watts said she cashed in as much as $25,000 in chips at one time and as little at $9,000.
Michelle reportedly cashed about $189,000 in chips, Bindley cashed in about $309,000 in chips and Watts cashed in about $115,000. All four are responsible for restitution.
Prosecutors took a $13,000 Sony plasma TV, two Rolex watches, and $20,000 of artwork were taken from the Lawrence’s home in Douglas County. Prosecutors also sought a 2002 Toyota Sequoia from a Carson City bail bonds company and $10,000 Lawrence invested in a Carson City kennel covers company as restitution.
Bindley became involved in the scam after Michelle and Jason invited him out from Kansas to stay with them while he went through a divorce. They paid for his attorney fees and helped him in other ways, that may have made him pressured to cash the chips Jason gave him.
— Maggie O’Neill can be reached at mo’firstname.lastname@example.org or 782-5121, ext. 214.