|By Lynn Thompson, Seattle
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 27, 2008 --The former general manager of the Residence Inn in Tukwila was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for embezzling more than $1 million from Marriott Corp.
Brian Fleet pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud involving a scheme in which he cashed checks made out to the Residence Inn and deposited them in his own account. Federal prosecutors say he used the money to live an extravagant lifestyle, traveling to Hawaii; Cancun, Mexico; and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and shopping at high-end stores such as Armani and Tiffany & Co.
Fleet, who grew up in Puyallup, was ordered to repay the stolen funds and will remain on supervised release for an additional three years after his release from prison.
Court documents say Fleet set up a personal account in 1999 -- the year he was hired at the hotel -- under the name "Brian M. Fleet [doing business as] The Residence" to make it easier to cash the checks.
Fleet stole $1.4 million, according to court documents. Prosecutors say he would take customer checks, cash them and then "manipulate the hotel's computer accounting system by falsely indicating that payments had been deposited ... ."
In February 2005, the hotel's corporate headquarters discovered the accounting manipulation and sent a team to Tukwila to investigate. The day the team arrived, Fleet called in sick and never returned to work, according to court papers. He remained a fugitive until January, when he turned himself in.
Fleet's attorney, Barry Flegenheimer, argued Friday for an 18-month sentence. He said the indictment had been filed under seal and Fleet didn't realize he was wanted until he was featured on the FBI's most-wanted list. Flegenheimer said Fleet took full responsibility for his acts, sought gambling-addiction treatment, and began saving from a new job to pay his debts, including restitution. He described Fleet in court papers as a hardworking and caring person whose life "seriously detoured" following a divorce in 1999 and a growing gambling addiction.
While a fugitive, Fleet moved to California and was hired as a manager for a Best Western motel. His employers credited him with turning the motel around and making it more profitable.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, in recommending Fleet be sentenced to five months below the federal sentencing guideline of 41 months, noted Fleet had addressed his gambling addiction and that his current employers, despite learning of his embezzlement, spoke highly of him and credited him with significant improvements to their business.
The government argued against the defense request for an 18-month sentence, stating in court papers that "the average citizen would probably be quite astonished to hear someone could steal over $1 million and only serve three years in prison."
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report. Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
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