Investigator details theft of
airport funds by Seymour By
COLIN McDONALD of the Missoulian
How did John Seymour embezzle more
than half a million dollars when he was director of Missoula
Turns out, it wasn't that hard,
according to a private investigator's report made public last
week after Seymour pleaded guilty in Missoula District Court
to four counts of felony theft, one count of misdemeanor theft
and one count of official misconduct.
Airport Authority board hired Larry Larsen, a certified
forensic accountant, to investigate Seymour's actions after
learning last November that $645,000 was missing from airport
Larsen spent a month working with the
Missoula County Sheriff's Department, going over the airport's
financial records and interviewing those with whom Seymour had
dealings. Larsen had unrestricted access to airport records
and Seymour's computer, and to employees at the
Taking the money, Larsen concluded, was
relatively easy - he was, after all, the airport's director
and a trusted employee.
"In my personal opinion, John
is a master of telling people bits and pieces," said Zane
Sullivan, who was the airport board's attorney and readily
admits he was duped by Seymour. "John was the center of a
multi-spoke wheel that many of us were at the outside of, and
we did not do a very good job of communicating with each
From the center of the wheel, Seymour had great
influence over how money moved at the airport. Only after the
airport's fiscal manager, Teri O'Leary, began asking questions
did Seymour's wheel start to fall apart.
with airport board attorney Zane Sullivan and asked him to try
to convince Teri that no more documentation was required,"
Larsen wrote in his report. "Eventually, John admitted to Zane
that he had taken money from the airport and asked Zane to
keep quiet for 30 days so John could pay back the money. Zane
refused and told the board on Nov. 15, 2004 that he had reason
to believe John had taken money. John Seymour was suspended
without pay that same evening."
Sullivan remembers the
day he handed Seymour an account summary which showed money
moving from an airport account to an account controlled by
"John did not directly comment that he had
taken the money," Sullivan said. "But he did say, 'I'm going
to jail.' He said, 'Stick with me. Give me 30 days to return
the money.' I said 'I can't do that.' "
was the end of Seymour's 21-year career at Missoula's airport.
He started as a maintenance worker in 1983. He did not have a
college degree. He came from a ranching background. When he
was promoted to the position of director, many on the board
claimed his biggest asset was that he was honest and
At the time he was suspended, Seymour's
net worth was estimated at $1.4 million, although his annual
salary was roughly $120,000. He had a large house in the
Rattlesnake Valley and a ranch on Flathead Lake, complete with
a herd of bison. He was 45 years old.
He is now looking
at the possibility of four decades in the Montana State
Prison, although his attorney will ask for no jail
In comparison to the felony theft charges against
Seymour, the misdemeanor embezzlement and misconduct charges
Seymour used the airport credit card to buy
a power washer from Home Depot for $999. That brought the
misdemeanor embezzlement charge.
As airport director,
he accepted $60,000 from BJ Lefler and Rodger Hall of
Frenchtown after he intentionally overestimated the value of
property the airport was buying from the two men by $350,000.
That brought the official misconduct charge.
County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg did not bring charges
against either Lefler or Hall, citing insufficient evidence of
wrongdoing on their part.
Larsen said it would be
difficult to prove, as Lefler and Hall do not have a record of
the transaction and because Seymour could have put the money
in "a hundred different places."
Seymour pleaded guilty
to the misdemeanor charge. And in an affidavit, Van Valkenburg
wrote that after the airport purchased the overpriced
property, "Seymour accepted $60,000 from Lefler and Hall on
March 13, 2001, ostensibly for the purchase of 20 head of
bison cows from Seymour."
Lefler and Hall have never
taken delivery of the cows or shown any significant interest
in the alleged purchase, according to the
The missing airport funds brought the felony
embezzlement charges. Here's how the investigator tracked
First, Seymour took $200,732 from a
$5.3-million First Interstate Bank loan to the airport. The
money was for the purchase of 759 acres owned by Charles and
When the loan was dispersed, Seymour
added a line to the Disbursement Request and Authorization
Record to pay $200,732 to a consulting company called Aviation
Seymour would not deposit the
check for several months - until after he had Sullivan create
the company, which was based out of Seymour's
When the company was created, Sullivan asked
Seymour if it was going to do anything for the Missoula
airport. Seymour said it was not, and was strictly for some
consulting work he was going to do for smaller airports in the
To authorize the $200,000-plus disbursement, the
document only needed Seymour's signature and that of Bruno
Friia, who was sitting in for the chair of the airport
Friia said he checked the document with others
and nothing seemed suspicious. "We were working with a lot of
consultants at that time," Friia said.
Larsen said he
could not find fault with Friia, as the only person at the
airport who could have explained the transaction was
When the airport received the check to be
given to Seymour's company, O'Leary began to question her boss
- and only released the check after Seymour tricked a company
in Tulsa, Okla., to write a letter which seemed to authorize
release of the money.
At that point, Seymour was on a
Part of the Deschamps' purchase price was held in
an escrow account at Insured Titles of Missoula; it was to be
used by the airport for expenses incurred in purchasing the
property. Whatever money was left was to be given to the
On June 26, 2003, Seymour wrote a
letter to Insured Titles asking that a check in the amount of
$180,093.40 be sent from the escrow account to Barnard
Dunkelberg & Co., the Tulsa company that had done
consulting work for the airport in the past.
month, Seymour called Bob Barnard of Barnard Dunkelberg and
said he would be receiving a large check from Federal Aviation
According to Larsen's report,
Seymour told Barnard the money had to be spent before the end
of the year or the airport would lose it. So the money, he
said, would be a deposit for future work. Barnard said he
would be happy to help.
Then in early September,
Seymour called Barnard again and asked for a letter outlining
current work-in-progress and estimates of future billings.
Seymour explained it was an FAA requirement and had to do with
the $180,093 check.
Further, Seymour told Barnard that
since he knew exactly what the letter should say, he would
write the letter and send it to Barnard for printing on
Seymour then took the letter from
Barnard, now on official letterhead, and told the airport's
fiscal manager that Aviation Management Consultants - his
fictitious company - was a subcontractor for Barnard
Dunkelberg, and the letter was sufficient to release the
Barnard Dunkelberg held the second,
$180,093 check until November of 2003, when Seymour called
Barnard and asked him to send the money back to the airport,
with the check made out to First Interstate Bank. Seymour held
onto the check for a month, then deposited it in his own
Seymour's final check, and boldest taking, was
for $264,328.47 and went directly from the escrow account to
Aviation Management Consultants. The check emptied the escrow
Larsen was able to recover a deleted file on
Seymour's computer which simply stated: "In accordance with
the Escrow Instructions related to the closing of the Charlie
and Nancy Deschamps land acquisition, please prepare a check
for the balance remaining in the account. Please make the
check payable to: AMC Consultants c/o Benard Dunkleberg &
Co." (Seymour misspelled the name of the company.)
letter had Bruno Friia's signature block on the bottom, but
Friia never saw the letter. A copy of the letter was found in
the files at Insured Titles.
On Jan. 6, 2004, a check
for $264,328.47 payable to AMC Consultants was deposited in
Seymour's account at First Interstate Bank.
being caught the following November, Seymour loaned $45,000 to
his nephew and $180,000 to BJ Lefler. He also purchased a
commercial lot from Missoula Saws for $185,130 and a duplex at
527-529 E. Front St. for $148,000.
Seymour has been able to take back the loans and sell the
properties and make full restitution to the airport. As part
of his resignation, Seymour agreed to give up his vacation
time and accrued employment benefits - in exchange for the
airport authority not seeking restitution for the costs and
expenses caused by Seymour's embezzlement.
Seymour's actions have caused considerable grief for those on
the airport board and those who work at the airport, Larsen
concluded his report on an encouraging note.
airport is in great financial condition," the investigator
wrote, "and the board has a plan for the future. This is an
airport that the citizens of Missoula County can be proud
Seymour will be sentenced on July
Reporter Colin McDonald can be reached at 523-5259