EDITOR'S NOTE: The charges against Kimble Blackburn were expunged on November 8, 2012.

RICHFIELD — A 6th District judge Tuesday sentenced Kimble Blackburn, a former official at Snow College at Richfield, to up to 15 years in prison and ordered him to pay $424,000 in restitution in what officials said may have been the biggest theft of state funds in Utah history.

Judge David Mower sentenced Blackburn, 48, former assistant vice president for finance and facilities at the Richfield campus, to up to 15 years in prison on 30 second-degree felony counts and up to five years on six third-degree counts.

Those are the maximum sentences under law, but because the sentences on all of the counts will run concurrently, it appeared he could serve a maximum of 15 years.

Pinning down the precise amount of missing money has been difficult, but Snow College President Michael Benson said campus financial officials and state auditors believe losses come to about $300,000 since 1996.

However, Sevier County Attorney Don Brown and Blackburn's attorney agreed to accept $157,000 as the amount of missing funds related to the charges Blackburn pleaded guilty to on June 3.

In handing down sentence, Mower noted that in theft-related cases, state law permits courts to require defendants to pay restitution of up to three times the amount stolen. He sentence Blackburn to pay two times the $157,000, or $314,000, as well as to pay $110,000 to cover the state's costs of investigating the case.

Following the hearing, Brown said the sentence was about what the prosecution had recommended. "Given the magnitude of the offense, there really wasn't much choice" but to send Blackburn to prison, he said.

The whole affair has been "devastating for the community," he added. "Hopefully, now we can get on with the healing process."

Snow College President Michael Benson said there is an inherent possibility that someone at a higher educational institution can "do this sort of thing."

But since Blackburn's misappropriations have been uncovered, all Utah colleges have "really started to button down," he said. All Richfield campus financial records have been loaded into the main Snow College accounting system in Ephraim, he noted. "I'm very comfortable with where we are now," he said.

During the hearing, Earl Xias, Blackburn's attorney, said Blackburn had a new job in Richfield. He asked Mower to sentence Blackburn to jail, with work-release, so he could earn money and pay full restitution.

An emotional Blackburn told the court, "I'm very, very sorry for what I've done. . . . I want to apologize, first, to the victim in this case, the school, and then to my family and the employees at the school."

He said he "got into this (taking funds), at first very small." At one point, he said, he thought he could resolve the missing funds without anyone knowing, but by the time he recognized the problem, he couldn't evade it.

But Brown and others questioned whether Blackburn was fully remorseful. Brown described him as "a schemer of the highest order" and said, "He hasn't been frank about anything from the beginning."

The county attorney said Blackburn's deception had continued throughout the investigation. "Initially, Blackburn had told investigators he took only $71,000 and was positive of the amount because he kept meticulous records. But in the end, he acknowledged taking more than $150,000."

Until he was fired in January, Blackburn had been with Snow College at Richfield, formerly Snow College South, for 26 years and in financially responsible positions most of that time.

Scott White, chairman of the Snow College Board of Trustees, said investigators had run into one questionable transaction involving Blackburn dating to 1988. But because old records generally weren't available, auditors mostly limited their investigation to 1996-2002.

"The greatest chance we have to put an end to this is with a prison sentence," White told the court. "We plead for deterrence. We plead for justice."

Benson told the court Blackburn had done "irreparable damage to the 115-year reputation of Snow College. It will take years for the college to restore its name with the public and legislators."

Prosecution of Blackburn was based on a preliminary Utah state auditor's report covering July 1, 2000, to Dec. 31, 2002. That report said Blackburn had misappropriated $194,000 in cash and charged about $27,000 in personal expenses on the college credit card.

A few weeks ago, the state auditor issued a final report that also covered the period from 1996-2000. That report pointed to another $126,000 in missing cash.

No charges were filed in connection with the $126,000 or the credit card charges, but Brown said he was leaving open the possibility of prosecution on those items at a later date.

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