A federal judge sentenced a former Edwardsville police chief Wednesday to 18 months at a federal prison camp for stealing towing fees from a city fund.
James S. Bedell, who resigned in October, heard U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan pronounce the sentence. Bedell pleaded guilty in April to four federal counts of embezzlement and theft from the city while he was Edwardsville's police chief.
The money was stolen from tow fees and used to support Bedell's gambling habit, Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith said.
Smith argued for a 21 month prison sentence for Bedell, saying it was Bedell who brought the idea of a lock box and charging a $300 towing fee to the City Council on April 9 2012.
During his closing statement, Smith said he didn't think the harm was in the $138,000 that was stolen.
"The damage was done to the reputation of police officers and to the city. If citizens don't trust the police, if the citizens don't respect the police, they are reluctant to cooperate," Smith said.
"The defendant was the one who brought the idea to the City Council to start collecting a $300 tow fee. He said it was being done other cities. The City Council approved an ordinance to create the $300 tow fee. Two months later after the money starts coming in, he starts taking money out of the cash box and started embezzling," Smith told Reagan.
"Did he come up with the idea he could steal money? Smith asked. Then he said he could not say whether or not he did. But, he made it abundantly clear that it was just shortly after he came up with the idea and got council to approve it that Bedell started stealing the money.
Bedell's attorney, John P. Rogers of St. Louis, said Bedell's crime was a non-violent offense.
He told Reagan that Bedell was lonely and bored because he was not able to sell his home in Napersville for four years and had to be departed from his wife all that time on the Edwardsville job.
He said Bedell took responsibility for his actions early, had no previous criminal history, had a stellar law enforcement career and educational background along with his long, stable married life. He said the father of two boys had suffered embarrassment already and didn't allow his sons to attend the sentencing "for fear of them seeing him in this moment."
Rogers said Bedell, 57, is undergoing treatment for "stress and gambling addiction." He argued that Bedell did not need a stiff sentence because he was not likely to be in court again for anything like what he was there for Thursday morning.
What put federal agents onto Bedell's scheme was a payment made with a Quick Trip money order that ended up in Bedell's personal bank account, Smith said.
On Oct. 5, 2012, the FBI served a search warrant at Bedell's house. During his conversation with the FBI, Bedell explained the procedure for money getting into the lock box.
"He said anybody could get into the lock box using a butter knife. And, he said he didn't know how the money got into his account," Smith said.
After Bedell realized the federal investigation was focused squarely on him, he came clean Rogers said.
Reagan told Bedell he had read all of his letters of support, acknowledged his stellar career and education. He said he didn't have the luxury, though, of choosing good or bad and sentencing on that alone. He said he had to sentence the whole person - the good and the bad - the two faces of James Bedell.
He said Bedell's crime was serious, protracted and calculated.
"It was like a house of cards," Reagan said. He told Bedell he didn't know how he thought he wouldn't get caught. He, too, pointed out that Bedell came up with the tow fee idea and then stole from it. Reagan said it was sophisticated.
Reagan said he found a dozen bad cop cases that had been in federal court in recent years from the metro-east. He told Bedell, "Police are a safety net. ... Bad cops lend more to chaos than safety."
Reagan said sentencing Bedell to probation would not promote respect for the law. He pointed out the hardship individuals who had to pay the tow money had to deal with. "And then a cop took the money. It's just bad ... bad," Reagan said.
Reagan said he has no doubts that Bedell won't end up back in court, but unless he kicks his gambling addiction, he will go back to gambling.
Bedell apologized to the court, his family, fellow police officers ,friends, and the city of Edwardsville for his criminal actions He said his apology was especially made to his wife of 36 years and best friend for 41 years.
"I can't fix this. I am indebted to you for the rest of my life. I hope you can forgive me someday. I will never forgive myself," he said.
He added, "I am praying for leniency and mercy in your sentencing. I made a terrible decision. And, it has cost me dearly."