A former deputy sheriff who became the biggest winner in the history of NBC's "Super Password" game show was sentenced Monday to five years in prison for staging an elaborate hoax in which he faked his wife's death to collect on a $100,000 insurance policy.
Kerry Dee Ketchum, labeled by prosecutors as a con artist who unleashed "a virtual tornado of deception" before his arrest in Los Angeles, was also ordered to pay restitution to the insurance company.
"A lot of times, because I'm friendly and easy to get along with, people think I'm conning them," said Ketchum, who also faces bank fraud charges in Indiana and another criminal investigation in Alaska. "That's one of the reasons I went on the game show--to use my own intellect for something other than bad."
Ketchum, 36, who had used the name of a former college professor to collect $56,000 in winnings on "Super Password" in December, was arrested a month later when he arrived at the show's Hollywood offices to pick up his winnings, a one-day record for the show. Authorities had been tipped by an Alaska viewer, who recognized him.
"He's used his engaging manner and his cleverness to flout systematically all the responsibility the law has placed on him," said Assistant U.S. Atty. John F. Walsh III. "The defendant has been a virtual tornado of deception across the entire country."
U.S. District Judge Matthew Byrne Jr. acknowledged that Ketchum is "an articulate and bright fellow," but he said "the government is also correct in saying you are a con man."
"You are a con man, and you are also a thief. That's what I'm sentencing here, someone who uses his wits and his intelligence to become just a common thief," he said.
Ketchum, who pleaded guilty March 14 to two counts of mail fraud, had separated from his wife when he filed a claim with the Fireman's Fund American Life Insurance Co. seeking $100,000 in death benefits on her.
The wife, an Air Force enlistee whom Ketchum claimed had been killed in an early morning automobile accident, was unaware of the scam, authorities said.
Ketchum, a former Air Force sergeant, joined the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department in Dayton, Ohio, as a deputy after his military discharge in 1980 but left the department after he was convicted of stealing an estimated $200,000 worth of military equipment during his time with the Air Force. He served 18 months in prison.
A federal indictment in Indiana accuses Ketchum of fraudulently obtaining a $15,000 bank loan on a car to which he did not hold clear title and writing $15,000 worth of bad checks. A separate criminal investigation is pending in Fairbanks, Alaska.
"He came from a good, working class family . . . ," said Ketchum's attorney, Jerry Newton. "But let's face it, Kerry's a rascal."