Couple Get Lengthy Terms in Thefts From Missing Accountant
Two former Santa Monica teachers convicted of stealing the motor home and life savings of a retired Glendale accountant were sentenced to lengthy prison terms Friday by a federal judge who accused them of treachery in the accountant’s unsolved disappearance.
Stanley Alan Hershey, 47, and his wife, Jan Vicki Fine, 38--who kept journals hinting that they thought spirits were ordering them to commit crimes--were convicted in Las Vegas of 18 counts of conspiracy, transportation of stolen vehicles across state lines and illegal use of automated banking cards.
In sentencing them, U.S. District Judge Philip Pro bypassed guidelines that suggested maximum sentences of only 37 months in prison and instead imposed a 20-year sentence on Hershey, a five-year sentence on Fine and fined them $10,000 apiece.
Fine also is to serve 300 hours of community service after she is released from prison. The judge said the sentences are warranted by the circumstances in the unusual case.
Although authorities have said they suspect the couple of killing Gordon T. (Gordy) Johnson, 62, Johnson’s body has never been found and California investigators have been unable to bring murder charges. Instead, the Justice Department brought charges for federal offenses related to the disappearance of Johnson, whose body is believed to be somewhere in Lake Shasta in Northern California.
Making clear that he took Johnson’s fate into account in imposing the unusually long theft sentences, the judge told the couple: “I would be putting my head in the sand if I were to believe that Gordon Johnson left everything he owned by the side of the road and disappeared. Johnson met with a very unfortunate and fatal end.”
The couple was convicted Oct. 26 of stealing Johnson’s $219,000 motor home, a four-wheel-drive Suzuki and $120,000 in savings.
Authorities believe that Johnson, who traveled with his dog, Rocky, was killed during a stopover at a campground at Lake Shasta.
Shasta County sheriff’s officials are continuing a murder investigation, Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Jarrett said.
The couple, both teachers with master’s degrees who married in 1988, practiced “channeling,” believing that spirits guided their destiny, according to testimony and evidence presented during their six-day trial. Both kept journals--entered into evidence--in which they wrote down so-called “orders from spirits.”
The couple met Johnson in late September, 1989, at a campground in Minneapolis, where their motor home was parked near his. Referring to “Gordy and his assets,” Hershey wrote that he felt “disbelief” over spiritual orders that contradicted Hershey’s “natural regard for the sanctity of life.”
His writings went on to say that spirits had given him “full permission to engage in any activity,” including “much that you currently find to be distasteful.”
After Johnson’s disappearance and before her arrest, Fine wrote in her journal that her greatest fears included “jail” and “more assignments like the last one.”
Fine’s attorney argued that she had been duped by her husband into following his orders.
But prosecutors said the couple schemed together to steal from Johnson and followed him to a motor home park in Bend, Ore. Both Johnson’s motor home and the couple’s motor home left the Oregon campground on Oct. 15, 1989, the last time Johnson was seen.
The next day, Hershey rented a boat at Lake Shasta, where authorities believe the victim’s body was dumped. The lake has a 370-mile perimeter, the largest lake shoreline in California.
After Johnson’s disappearance, the couple used his vehicles and his money to travel extensively, including a trip to Tahiti, and spent large sums on gambling and expensive clothing, such as men’s silk Italian suits.
Johnson’s motor home was found Jan. 29, 1990, parked at a resort outside Phoenix in a space Hershey rented, according to court records. Hershey and Fine were arrested March 1 in Las Vegas after an FBI investigation in a half-dozen states.
Judge Pro said he imposed a longer sentence on Hershey because he considered him “a very dangerous and sinister person” and believes that Fine was unaware of the extent of “a sophisticated scheme” against Johnson.
Fine, whose first child was born in jail just days after the trial ended, tearfully pleaded that losing her daughter, who is being cared for by her parents in Long Island, N.Y., has been punishment enough. But Pro told her, “You have to ultimately bear the responsibility for what you did.” He ordered Fine to undergo psychiatric counseling.