BY POLLY SEARS
MONTESANO -- A businessman convicted of bilking an elderly Aberdeen man out of his life savings was given an exceptional sentence Monday in Grays Harbor Superior Court: Six years in prison.
The prosecution described Richard Wayne Bennett as "evil," and Judge Mark McCauley concluded that the sentence was "probably lenient."
McCauley said he was "outraged" that Bennett could befriend an elderly man, steal $100,000 from him and then "waste it away" on drugs and alcohol.
Bennett, 53, repeatedly interrupted the judge to plead his case.
"I can't let you go on like this," the emotional thief told the judge.
Bennett's pleas backfired. A stern McCauley sentenced him to an aditional 30 days behind bars for contempt of court.
Bennett, who once operated The Mailbox and More in downtown Aberdeen, was convicted in February of first-degree theft by deception.
Bennett befriended 78-year-old John Boyd, a retired millworker and Daily World carrier, after Boyd's wife of 33 years died in 1995. Bennett then tricked Boyd into draining nearly $100,000 from a special annuity account. Over a two-month period, Bennett then spent the money for his business and personal use, prosecutors told the court.
Bennett's prior convictions include first-degree theft, unlawful issuance of bank checks and unlawful practice of law.
"This involves such an incredible breach of trust, it just boggles the mind."
According to defense attorneys, the standard sentencing range would be zero to 90 days. Deputy Prosecutor Jason Richards argues that it would be two to six months.
But either way, Bennett faced a maximum 10-year prison sentence, according to Richards, who recommended that Bennett be sentenced to six years behind bars.
Bennett, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, stood with his arms crossed and occasionally shook his head as the deputy prosecutor outlined his recommendation to Judge McCauley.
Richards said his "first impulse" was to recommend 10 years. Alluding to other investigations that never resulted in convictions, Richards said Bennet's actions have "affected the lives of quite a few citizens."
"But that's not the reason I'm asking for an exceptional sentence," he said.
Rather, Richards said he is motivated by the fact that Bennett preyed on a vulnerable man, someone who was looking for a friend in the wake of his wife's death. Richards also pointed to the amount of money taken.
"The facts demonstrate that Mr. Bennett is evil. What he did to Mr. Boyd is evil," the deputy prosecutor said. "This involves such an incredible breach of trust, it just boggles the mind."
Defense attorney Patrick Quinn argued that Boyd was not vulnerable, that he knew the money was going to Bennett and that he signed the checks "freely."
"He was aware of what he was doing," said Quinn, who pointed out that the conviction involves one victim, not multiple victims.
"I think we've all lost perspective here," Bennett added when it came his turn to speak.
The convicted thief suggested the case was about an over-zealous prosecutor, saying that it was really about "Jason Richards vs. Richard Bennett."
He defended himself as a businessman, saying that he has had more than 30,000 customers at his mailbox business over the past five years and that he has had less than a dozen complaints.
Bennett told the judge that he tried to reimburse Boyd for the money that he had taken.
He was "ready to deal with it" 18 months ago, Bennett said.
"I recognized what went wrong and I tried to heal it," Bennett said.
He said that he has "tried to be honest with this court."
For instance, how many defendants admit in open court to being "a pathological liar"? he asked.
Judge McCauley was underwhelmed.
"I was outraged by the fact that this elderly gentleman was taken advantage the way he was," the judge said.
Boyd was clearly vulnerable, the judge added, referring to the victim's testimony on the stand in which he seemed confused and was easily led by whoever was asking him questions.
"Judge, can I say something?" Bennett interrupted.
"No, you had your chance," the judge said sternly. McCauley went on to say that Bennett "came along under the pretense of being a friend" when Boyd was distraught and alone.
"I can't let you go on like this," Bennett interrupted again, adding that Boyd "could have run the Boston Marathon two years ago."
Judge McCauley wasn't finished. He added that Bennett then "wasted away" Boyd's money on drugs and other items.
Bennett interrupted a third time and McCauley found him in contempt.
"That's gonna cost you another 30 days," the judge told Bennett before concluding his remarks.