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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2008

Ex-bank chief's jail sentence cut 4 years

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Dressed in a brown jumpsuit and looking more frail and older than when he went to prison in 2003, Mark Steven Miller was given a break yesterday when a federal judge in Toledo knocked 4 years off his 14-year sentence.

Miller, who shocked the tiny town of Oakwood, Ohio, when he was convicted of embezzling nearly $49 million from Oakwood Deposit Bank, saw his prison term reduced because prosecutors said he had cooperated with them.

The reduction ordered by U.S. District Judge David Katz came at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office, which said that Miller had provided key testimony leading to the conviction of Florida casino operator Sam Gray and his wife, Marilyn, a year ago in federal court in Florence, S.C.

"But for Mr. Miller's testimony they would not have convicted Mr. Gray of receiving stolen property," Thomas Karol, assistant U.S. prosecutor, told the judge in asking that Miller's sentence be reduced.

Miller, 52, could be released in about three years, his attorney Martin Mohler said.

He was transported from the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Elkton, Ohio, to the one-hour hearing, which was attended by more than a dozen of his family members and friends.

The bank's top executive sold certificates of deposit over the Internet, altered the Oakwood bank's books, and sent nearly $41 million to a gambling-ship operation between the 1990s and late January, 2002. The 97-year-old bank closed and was taken over by a nearby bank.

Miller told the judge yesterday that his time in prison has been difficult.

"I'm not going to say the last 4 1/2 years has been easy because it hasn't," Miller said to the judge in a barely audible voice.

"It's been really tough. You spend time thinking about it. It's just been really tough," he said.

His wife, Janet, a grandchild, and, recently, his father have all died during his prison time. "Some would say those compensating factors are far greater than the loss of liberty suffered," Judge Katz said.

Prosecutors in South Carolina said the Grays, of Duluth, Ga., received nearly $41 million in stolen Oakwood Bank funds that they used to operate their Stardancer Casinos Inc. firm that operated gambling ships out of South Carolina and several cities in Florida. Marilyn Gray was convicted and sentenced to 3 1/2 years.

Gray, 67, who in February was sentenced to 11 1/2 years for tax fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and receiving embezzled money, claimed to have no knowledge of receiving stolen funds from Miller.

Mr. Karol said the former bank executive provided "substantial assistance" in both the Gray case and in related investigations that led to the recovery of $2 million of the embezzled funds from his brother, Greg Miller of Lima, and a $2 million summary judgment against another brother, Jeff Miller of Haviland, Ohio.

Judge Katz said he had received "five or six" letters from Oakwood Bank depositors objecting to any reduction of Miller's sentence in light of the hardships the bank collapse had caused the community and its citizens. Oakwood is 60 miles southwest of Toledo.

Some customers of the bank lost money.

The embezzlement scheme was revealed when a check-kiting complaint was filed with regulators by another area bank.

It was Judge Katz in 2003 who originally gave Miller the maximum 14-year sentence for embezzlement. But the unsolicited help he provided in the other cases was not part of his plea agreement.

"To encourage cooperation and enable the government to pursue others is valuable," the judge said.

The lighter sentence "is a carrot to hold up to defendants" who otherwise might not be as cooperative.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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