Park City lawyer sentenced to a year in jail
A Park City attorney who used money he stole to help start a local law firm for his sons was sentenced Monday to serve a year in the Summit County jail.
A deputy led Snyderville Basin resident Gary William Nielsen, 66, from the courtroom to the jail to begin serving his sentence immediately. Nielsen pleaded guilty in March to second-degree felony theft for stealing more than $346,200 from one of his clients.
The victim, Creekside Funding LLC, lost $346,248 after about $560,000 was placed by firm into a trust account held by Nielsen at Mountain West Bank on Park Avenue, according to Summit County Attorney David Brickey.
Nielsen has admitted he took the money, Brickey added.
South Summit resident Syau-fu Ma said she was one of the people Nielsen victimized. Ma asked 3rd District Court Judge Robert Hilder to order Nielsen to serve time in prison.
"Gary Nielsen is not only old enough to know better, he is an attorney," Ma said at Monday’s sentencing hearing. "Gary Nielsen did not extort funds because of extenuating circumstances. His wife was not dying of cancer. He had not lost his home to a fire. He stole the funds to feed his extravagant lifestyle of expensive African safaris, first-class cruises to the Antarctic, riding arenas in his backyard and original artwork for his new law office."
Nielsen, who wore a button-down forest green shirt and grayish trousers, did not testify on Monday. He has admitted he used the money he stole for his own benefit, according to Brickey.
Nielsen was hired by Creekside Funding to get rid of liens placed by creditors on property acquired by Creekside.
Creekside shareholder Richard R. Arnold Jr. said he did not suspect Nielsen would steal from the firm.
"I was completely comfortable having the escrow funds in Gary Nielsen’s trust account," Arnold told the judge. "We had no concerns about him holding that money It seemed like the safest place on Earth to me."
But Nielsen has shown no remorse since stealing the money, Arnold said.
"[Nielsen] has repeatedly asked us to drop the criminal charges," Arnold said. "Gary Nielsen has not taken responsibility for his actions."
He said Nielsen belongs behind bars.
"This was money held in an attorney trust account. He abused that trust account. He abused his role as fiduciary," Arnold said. "Gary Nielsen made a choice, and that choice was to take money that did not belong to him."
An ‘elderly gentleman’
Nielsen’s attorney asked that her client be spared jail time.
"The victims asked for quite severe punishment for an elderly gentleman," attorney Gail Laser said. "Sometimes people get in desperate straits and they make bad decisions."
Park City businessman Richard Bizarro said he has known Nielsen for 20 years.
"He has handled millions of dollars for me in a perfect manner," Bizarro told the judge. "I consider him to be trustworthy."
Bizarro said Nielsen does not deserve to go to jail.
Meanwhile, Laser stressed that Nielsen has no other criminal record.
"This is a single act of very bad judgment for which he is regretful and wants to make full restitution," Laser said in a telephone interview.
But Nielsen has not attempted to pay restitution, his victims claimed.
Nielsen’s crime was a "very substantial breach of trust," the judge said.
"This is a case where it would be easy to dole out a prison sentence," Hilder said.
Hilder said he has "doubts about the level of [Nielsen’s] remorse."
Along with the jail sentence, Hilder also ordered Nielsen to pay restitution and placed him on probation for six years.
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