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CHESTER – Ezra Brown Crenshaw Jr.’s face sagged and he cast his gaze toward the courtroom floor only briefly as Circuit Court Judge DeAndrea G. Benjamin sentenced him to four and a half years in prison for stealing nearly $500,000 from the three nonprofit organizations where he once served as a financial officer.
The sentence came Thursday afternoon, Sept. 4, at the Chester County Courthouse, almost two months after Crenshaw, 43, first pleaded guilty on July 14 to 10 felony counts of forgery and six felony counts of breach of trust with fraudulent intent.
Those charges stem from the misappropriation of about $466,300 from the J. Marion Sims Foundation, the Lancaster Rotary Club and Lancaster County Clemson Club, discovered during a police investigation last year. Crenshaw was the former vice president of finance and administration for the Sims Foundation and treasurer for the two clubs.
Crenshaw’s sentence had hinged on a pre-sentencing investigation ordered by Benjamin in July to familiarize herself with the facts of the case.
Though he could have been ordered to serve a maximum of 105 years in prison for his crimes, Benjamin instead handed down a 10-year sentence suspended to 54 months in jail, followed by five years of probation for nine of the breach of trust charges.
Benjamin also handed down a five-year sentence suspended to five years of probation for the forgery charges in the case.
The probation sentences are to run consecutively, meaning Crenshaw will serve a total of 10 years of probation.
In addition, Benjamin ordered that Crenshaw pay restitution of almost $245,000 to the Sims Foundation, $26,423 to the Clemson Club and $17,729 to the Lancaster Rotary Club.
She also made a civil judgement that Crenshaw must also pay off $275,000 to the Sims Foundation’s insurance carrier.
‘None of it went home’
During Crenshaw's July hearing, Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield described Crenshaw's crimes as a case of "robbing Peter to pay Paul to try and cover up his tracks."
Barfield said Crenshaw's cover-up began after he invested and lost Clemson Club funds in electronic stock trades.
"At some point it snowballed, he couldn't pay it back and he got deeper and deeper," Barfield said during the July hearing.
The crimes came to light in February 2013 when an independent audit of Sims Foundation accounts revealed discrepancies between Oct. 1, 2008 and Feb. 28, 2013 amounting to more than $422,148.
Aa State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation later showed Crenshaw made more than 100 unauthorized electronic transfers of funds during the time and wrote several checks with the forged signatures of Sims Foundation members.
Some of the checks were made out to Crenshaw himself and others to the Rotary and Clemson clubs.
An audit of Rotary and Clemson Club accounts at the beginning of March revealed another 119 unauthorized checks and numerous unsupported deposits made by Crenshaw between the organizations and the Sims Foundation.
Total losses for the Rotary and Clemson clubs, despite forensic accounting and repayments by Crenshaw, amounted to $17,729 and $26,423 respectively.
During Thursday’s sentencing, Barfield requested the judge hand down a 10-year suspended sentence upon completion of eight years in prison, followed by five years probation.
“When we appeared in July when we were in Lancaster, Mr. Crenshaw was asking basically for two things, for mercy and a second chance. I think in this case, both of those objectives can be accomplished still giving him a significant active sentence,” Barfield said Thursday.
Though he recognized Crenshaw’s view that he’d already suffered from society’s punishment, including being arrested and written about in local newspapers, Barfield said there should still be consequences for diverting charitable money from its intended purpose.
“The state’s position is there ought to be judicial punishment in this case also,” Barfield said.
Before the sentencing was handed down, Crenshaw’s defense attorney Paul Reeves told the judge he had reviewed federal guidelines for first-time offenders, which recommended a sentence of 24 to 36 months. Despite that fact, he asked the judge to remember that the success rate for prisoners during their first time before a parole board is only 18 percent.
“I would submit based on this plea no one is going to accept parole in this case,” Reeves said.
Based on the facts of the case, Reeves asked the judge to also keep in mind that none of the missing funds went toward Crenshaw’s benefit.
“The E-trade account showed exactly where the money went and none of it went home,” Reeves said.
He suggested that giving Crenshaw more probationary time, and maybe only 12 to 24 months in jail, would allow him more time to pay restitution.
“His salvageability and his ability to contribute to this community is much more significant than putting him away for eight years,” he said.
Following the sentencing, a Chester County bailiff handcuffed Crenshaw and escorted him out the courthouse. There, he was met by a Lancaster County sheriff’s deputy who placed him in a patrol car and he was driven away.
Though there were more than a dozen members of the victim agencies in attendance, none commented during the hearing and only one quickly commented after the proceedings.
Jim Morton, president of the J. Marion Sims Foundation, said the judge had made a decision and all they could do was move on.
“It’s over. We can close the book on it and move on,” Morton said.