Ex-Pa. gas drilling exec pleads guilty over thefts

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm •  Published: February 18, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former chief operating officer who stole more than $9 million from his gas drilling company to feed his casino gambling habit has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and income tax fraud.

Larry Dean Winckler will be sentenced May 30 by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence McVerry, who accepted his guilty plea on Tuesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci and defense attorney Martin Dietz agreed that federal guidelines call for a sentence of just over five years in prison to as much as 6 1/2 years. Winckler, 53, has agreed to forfeit more than $481,000 in a bank account, jewelry including four Rolex watches and a house to help satisfy the debt.

Winckler didn't comment beyond answering the judge's questions with "yes" or "no" answers, and Dietz declined to comment except when asked how much of the thefts were driven by Winckler's gambling habit.

"Every penny," Dietz said.

Melucci told the judge that the thefts from Falcon Drilling LLC, in Indiana County about 45 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, stretched back to 2004 and that investigators determined Winckler gambled away millions of dollars at casinos in Pennsylvania and out of state, including Caesar's Atlantic City in New Jersey and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

Winckler is the third person to plead guilty in connection with his thefts.

The first was Cheryl Diane Brooks, of Clymer, who pleaded guilty in January 2013 to her role in helping Winckler steal more than $5.4 million from the company, including $557,000 she kept for herself.

Brooks has cooperated with the government. She has been selling off personal assets to repay her debt and has surrendered a vested pension. She's scheduled for sentencing in August.

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