A former manager with West Penn Allegheny Health System said it was the allure of the casino atmosphere and admiration of fellow gamblers when he placed high bets that caused him to steal more than $700,000 from his employer and then gamble it away.
Ira Johnson, 53, of Penn Hills was sentenced Wednesday to serve one to two years in alternative housing, to be followed by five years of probation.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Philip A. Ignelzi gave Johnson permission to begin his sentence after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The former manager of patient financial services and manager of revenue/cash receipts pleaded guilty in July to dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, misapplication of government funds, theft and receiving stolen property.
Johnson began working for the health system in 2006 and was fired in November 2011.
He was accused of diverting insurance payments made to the health system into bank accounts he created.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Mantella told the court that the theft was particularly troubling because it was money taken from a not-for-profit, charitable organization, which has recently struggled financially.
"This is nearly three-quarters of a million dollars that could have been put to use caring for people of our community," she said.
Defense attorney Milton Raiford attributed his client's behavior to a gambling addiction.
He asked the court to sentence his client to probation.
"Incarceration won't do anything for him, nor will it do anything for anyone else," Mr. Raiford said.
Johnson said he was unaware of the "magnitude" of what was stolen until investigators told him.
"How do we get to the point of [nearly] $750,000?" Judge Ignelzi asked.
"The main thing is the excitement of the casinos -- the atmosphere," Johnson answered. "It got to the point where it didn't matter if I won or lost. I was playing with large sums of money, and people admire that."
Judge Ignelzi said he doubted West Penn would recover much of its loss, but said that Johnson will be permitted work release during his sentence. He now works as a car salesman.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published October 23, 2013 2:33 PM