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People v. Knippenberg

October 04, 2001


Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit Peoria County, Illinois No. 98-CF-1124 Honorable Donald C. Courson, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater


After a jury trial, the defendant, John Knippenberg, was convicted of six counts of theft (720 ILCS 5/16(a)(2)(a) (West 1998)), dispersing charitable trust funds without authority and for his personal benefit (225 ILCS 460/19 (West 1998), and failure to register as a professional fund raiser (225 ILCS 460/6(a) (West 1998)). He was sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment for one count of theft and six years for failing to register as a professional fund raiser. Those two sentences were to be served consecutively to each other and concurrent to a 12-year term of imprisonment for his conviction for personal use of charitable trust funds. He was sentenced to concurrent six-year terms of imprisonment for the remaining counts of theft. On appeal, the defendant argues: (1) the prosecution, conviction, and sentencing for each of the offenses he was convicted of are void and erroneous; (2) he was unconstitutionally sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment; and (3) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. For the following reasons, we affirm.

The defendant did not appear for trial and was tried in absentia. At trial it was established that the defendant once worked for the Veterans Assistance Corporation (VAC), a fund raising division of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He became the office manager in June 1997. When he became manager, he hired the people who had been working for the previous manger. He ran offices in a three state area raising money by telephone solicitation. The defendant's employees testified that they would call each person on their telephone list four times a year to solicit funds for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. One employee explained that after someone agreed to donate over the telephone, she would go to that person's house to collect the funds and then take the cash or check and give it to the defendant.

In September 1998 the defendant had a disagreement with his employer at the VAC and he left. He kept his employees, however, and told them that they were no longer associated with the VAC. He told them that he had an agreement with the local Garden Street Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to act as a fund raising office for the post. He talked about opening up a home for veterans and said that a certain percent of the money raised would go to the Garden Street post and a portion would go to open a home for veterans.

Melvin Jones, Sr., testified that he was a member of the Garden Street Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. From September 1998 to December 1998 Jones was the person who recorded the minutes of the post's meetings. He had never heard of the defendant, nor had the post ever given him permission to solicit funds on its behalf. He had also never heard of the Veterans Families Welfare. The defendant never gave the Garden Street Post any funds.

Detective Meg Barnofsky testified that she interviewed the defendant on December 10, 1998, after she executed a search warrant for the defendant's office. The defendant told her that after he left the VAC, he met Chase Ingersoll, who told him that he could open up his organization using 610 West Richmond and be housed under the division of Reach Ministries. An agreement was made and the defendant signed a lease for that location for $600 a month rent. The defendant also allegedly agreed to lease the second floor of 602 West Richmond to open a living center for homeless veterans and their families. As part of the agreement, the defendant was to pay 10 percent of all funds donated to Reach Ministries.

Barnofsky reviewed the ledgers found in the defendant's office. Payroll information was documented in the ledgers. The defendant was paid $1,231.25 for the first 25 days of October 1998 and $1,145.99 for the last five days of October and the month of November 1998.

Kirk Kimmel testified that in October 1998 the defendant told him that he had incorporated as Veterans Family Welfare, that it was a viable business, and that they could "play off" the initials "VFW." Tina Jeremiah, one of the defendant's employees, testified that he told her in October 1998 that she was working for the Veterans Families Welfare and that she had new solicitation tickets printed up with that name.

Patricia Ford, a telephone solicitor, testified that around November of 1998 the defendant told her that he could not raise funds for a local Veterans of Foreign Wars, so the solicitors were no longer to use that name. After that, they used the letters "VFW" and did not say Veterans of Foreign Wars. If anyone asked if whether they were the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Ford told them that they were not. If a prospective donor asked what "VFW" stood for, she would explain that she was calling for a donation to the Veterans Families Welfare. Ford said that the solicitors made the same presentation over and over. They had a list of past donors, called a tap sheet. They would begin the presentation by saying, "thank you for your past support of veterans and we're back in the area having another drive," and asking the prospective donor if he would be interested in helping again. They did not change anything in the solicitation unless someone asked who they were. The tap sheets were essentially receipts from old donations that came from the office that the defendant had opened up for the VAC. When he left the VAC and moved to Richmond street, he took all the tap sheets which belonged to the VAC.

Cindy McKeown testified that she had given to the Veterans of Foreign Wars about a dozen times over the years. She knew the organization as the VFW. When she heard VFW she thought of Veterans of Foreign Wars. In December 1998 she received a telephone call from man who said he was from the VFW. She believed that to mean he was with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He explained that the purpose for soliciting funds was for holiday food baskets. She agreed to make a donation and wrote a check for $15 to the VFW. A woman came to her home to collect the check but did not give her a receipt. The check cleared her account. Numerous other individuals testified to similar facts. Generally, they had all donated money to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the past, someone had telephoned them and identified themself as from the VFW, and thanked them for donating in the past. All the donors testified that they believed their money was going to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, not the Veterans Families Welfare.

Linda Young, a branch manager of the Citizens Equity Federal Credit Union (CEFCU), testified that she had seen the defendant at CEFCU many times from September through December 1998. He came in to the credit union to deposit a volume of checks, many of which were payable to the VFW.

Thomas Hafele, a loss prevention investigator for CEFCU, testified that he compiled CEFCU's records pertaining to the defendant. He reviewed the account statements, deposits, checks and withdrawals for the period September 21, 1998 through January 4, 1999. One deposited item was made payable to Veterans of Foreign Wars and all the others were made to the VFW. None were made to Veterans Families Welfare. On the back of many of the checks was stamped "VFW" and the account number. For the period from September 21, 1998, through January 4, 1999, the total amount of deposits was $34,691.20, and the total amount of withdrawals was $35,139.83.

After he was arrested, the defendant was released on a $75,000 bond. However, he later failed to appear for a scheduling conference and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The defendant was tried in absentia. The defendant appeared in court after the trial was concluded. Defense counsel moved to withdraw and the public defender was appointed to represent him. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court noted that the offenses were aggravated by the defendant's ...

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