A judge has rejected a former U.S. Forest Service employee’s alibi that he was so blind he couldn’t see how much government property he had stolen.
A Tuolumne County Superior Court jury found Gary Gunderson of Columbia guilty of embezzlement and grand theft of what forest officials termed truckloads of items.
Hoping for leniency, Gunderson, 43, offered this written excuse to Judge William Polley before Tuesday’s sentencing:
“During the years of working for the Forest Service, I was conditioned to think it was customary practice to borrow and take excess government items.
“Due to my visual impairment, I didn’t realize I had so many items on my property to be returned.”
Judge Polley didn’t see it that way.
“The evidence is absolutely overwhelming that he stole many, many things which far exceeded any mistake or oversight,” Polley said.
Gunderson was ordered to spend 275 days in jail and five years on probation. He will remain free on $25,000 bail while the conviction is appealed.
Gunderson said he suffers from Usher’s syndrome, which he said causes severe deterioration of hearing and sight. During the trial, he used a cane and hearing aid in court.
Defense attorney Mark Borden asked for a new trial on grounds that a juror said he saw Gunderson drive away from the courthouse one day, which would seem at odds with his claim of bad eyesight.
“If he drives, he drives,” Polley said, denying the motion.
Gunderson worked on a Forest Service survey team from 1975 to 1989, when he switched to warehouse work because of health problems. He was in charge of receiving and disbursing inventory until his arrest in June, 1994.