Crime

Ex-Hanford workers sentenced to home detention

Two former Hanford workers were sentenced to home detention Tuesday for accepting TVs, refrigerators and other items illegally bought with credit cards issued for Hanford purchases.

The items were charged by Suzie Zuniga, a former materials coordinator, who was sentenced to 20 months in prison in December. As a Hanford buyer, she charged about $500,000 for personal property to her federal credit card for herself and others, according to court documents.

She bought personal goods for Tommy Honeycutt Jr., her boyfriend and a Hanford pipefitter for 24 years, and for Pedro "Pete" Alvarado Jr., a Hanford driver for 27 years.

Honeycutt was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Yakima by Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson to four months of home detention and one year probation.

He also is required to pay back $12,500, which is half the value of the goods the government claimed from him, according to court documents. The government will attempt to sell the goods to recover the rest of the $25,000.

Honeycutt pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud from January 2005 to January 2008. He admitted he was aware Zuniga was using a government credit card, called a purchase or P-card, to buy items for personal use.

When Honeycutt was shopping and saw something he liked, Zuniga would buy it for him, court documents said, Among items he received were a refrigerator, TV, lawnmower, pressure washer, rototiller, air compressor, iPod, digital camera, numerous power tools, two Honda generators, two Garmin global positioning system radios and Starbucks gift cards, according to court documents.

Honeycutt lost his Hanford job, but is hard working and will land on his feet, said his attorney Ulvar Klein.

"He has dealt with much greater loss in the last 10 years," Klein said.

During part of the time when Zuniga was purchasing personal items with a Hanford P-card, Honeycutt was living in Seattle because of the illness and death of his son, Klein said.

Klein wrote in court documents that Honeycutt was depressed after his son's death and blindly accepted presents from Zuniga without question.

"I regret everything truly," Honeycutt told the judge. "I can't change the past, but definitely will pay close attention in the future."

The judge waived a fine, other than the legally required $500 special assessment, because of the $12,500 Honeycutt owes in restitution and the significant bills from his son's illness.

Malouf Peterson sentenced Alvarado to four months of home detention and one year probation. He must repay $8,500, which will be added to the amount the government can recoup from an estimated $14,000 to $15,000 of property claimed from him. He also will pay a $500 assessment.

He told an investigator that as a driver with Fluor Hanford and an acquaintance of Zuniga, he would pick up purchases -- legitimate and otherwise -- made with her P-card, according to court documents.

He said he had taken items to her Prosser home, including a stove, refrigerator, microwave oven and several TVs, according to court documents.

In addition, he received items bought with her P-card, including two or three TVs, a washer and dryer, laptop computer, refrigerator, stove, lawnmower and weedeater, said court documents.

He pleaded guilty to five counts of wire fraud between April 2006 and November 2007.

Some who spoke or wrote letters on Alvardo's behalf said they were surprised to hear he had participated in the scheme.

"He's been a real credible guy. Out at work he was respected for his work ethic," said Ron Mashburn a former co-worker.

When police contacted Alvarado, he told all that he knew about the case and returned property, said his attorney, Troy Lee.

Two pastors and numerous family members wrote letters to the court, describing his devoted care of his parents as their only child living nearby. He took care of his father until his death and continues to care for his 92-year-old mother, who lives with him, Lee said.

Alvarado is "a decent man who would strive to help others and to work diligently .... He is a man who if you asked him for a favor, he would do whatever he could to assist you," wrote Pastor Mike Davis of Neighborhood Church in Sunnyside.

Alvarado had "feelings" toward Zuniga that were not reciprocated, which might offer some explanation for why he accepted items from her, Lee wrote in court documents.

"Furthermore, he has stated that he saw people receiving items, and it was (as) if no one cared that it was going on," Lee wrote. "He states that after a while, he fooled himself into thinking that there was nothing wrong with it."

Now he worries most that he has let his family down, and he has lost his job and his reputation, Lee said.

"I'd like to apologize to my family," Alvarado said in court, his voice breaking. "And I want to apologize to the United States government."

Seven people were indicted in spring 2010 for defrauding the federal government with credit cards issued to make purchases for Hanford work. Six have pleaded guilty, and Alvarado and Honeycutt were the second and third to be sentenced.

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