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MONSANTO LOOKING TO PLEA BARGAIN

Stephen A. Monsanto, a former special assistant to the director of the Internal Revenue Bureau, has been trying to strike a plea bargain agreement with the government to avoid a jury trial.
Monsanto is accused of intercepting $215,000 in government funds and depositing the money into a bank account for his own use. The alleged illegal activity occurred between January 1997 and April 1998.
Monsanto was charged in December 1998 after an investigation by the V.I. Justice Department's White Collar Crime Division.
Monsanto and his attorney, Treston Moore, appeared in Territorial Court on Tuesday afternoon to plead guilty to one count of obtaining money under false pretense in connection with the check diversion. However, legal wrangling between Moore and government prosecutors put off the change of plea hearing until later this month.
Territorial Court Judge Brenda Hollar refused to accept the plea agreement, which combined into a single count the 26 instances where Monsanto deposited or fraudulently used checks not intended for him. Discussion focused on whether the proposed plea bargain would minimize the impact of the crime.
Assistant Attorney General Douglas Sprotte told the judge, "I don't want to see a situation where because restitution has been made to several of the injured parties, Mr. Monsanto pleads guilty to a single count of obtaining money under false pretense and we only consider as fraud the money that remains outstanding, the money that has not been paid back. The government will not accept that."
Throughout the hearing, Moore said his client has wanted to make full restitution since he was implicated in the scheme in 1998. Moore said time and again that much of the monies listed on a government exhibit has already been paid back.
"My office will perform a detailed accounting to prove to this court and to the government, the parties that have received restitution from Mr. Monsanto," Moore said.
After much discussion about why the plea bargain, as proposed, could not be accepted by the court, Sprotte made another offer: "Mr. Monsanto can plead guilty to all of the original 33 counts and we will recommend to the court at the time of sentencing that the sentences run concurrent." In effect, Monsanto would be sentenced for only one count, though he would have pleaded guilty to all counts against him, Sprotte explained later.
Hollar appeared poised to accept the second plea bargain proposal, but Moore said he needed more time to consider it with his client. Obtaining money under false pretense is a felony crime that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.
Monsanto was in a job paying $53,000 a year when prosecutors allege that he used that position to intercept vendor payments from the government. Court documents filed in December 1998 accused Monsanto of depositing the diverted funds into an account at Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. In other instances, prosecutors alleged that Monsanto created fictitious invoices from businesses, then channeled the checks representing payment for the bogus invoices to his own account.
"In some cases the various vendors were the victims because legitimate payments were diverted," Sprotte said at the hour-long hearing Tuesday. "In other cases the government was the victim because government funds were committed for false invoices."
The case will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 21 with both sides attempting to reach a plea bargain acceptable to the court.

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