After a jury found him guilty last month of contracting with agents to take part in illegal gambling at the Warsaw VFW, James Lee Sparks, 40, was sentenced today in Kosciusko Superior Court I.
Sparks faced several felony counts related to the 2011 case, including theft, illegal gambling, corrupt business influence and contracting for the purpose of defrauding the VFW. On July 16, a jury found him guilty of contracting, a Class D felony. (See related)
Deputy prosecutor Mike Miner urged the court to consider jail time for Sparks noting, “This is an unusual situation in that, beyond simply the crime he was convicted for, the underlying fact is he went to the VFW here and essentially [encouraged] a couple older people and enticed them into this scheme. That has resulted in them having criminal convictions as well. The snake in the weeds caused other people to sin,” Miner added. “If not for him, this whole thing would not have occurred.”
Attorney Scott Lennox pleaded with Judge Duane Huffer to order probation, community service or even home detention for his client, whom he said has no previous criminal history and “has led a law abiding life,” but the judge said he had both mitigating and aggravating factors he had to consider.
“Mr. Sparks, you have led a law abiding life, but I still find that an aggravating factor,” said Judge Huffer. “From what I heard, you were the instigator … and I did see some people harmed by your actions who were also law abiding citizens and now have criminal records.”
Sparks has already spent 55 days incarcerated in the Kosciusko County Jail. Judge Huffer sentenced him to an 18 months in jail. However, he said he had no objection to Sparks being enrolled in the work release program if he qualified.
Sparks was arrested by the Indiana Gaming Commission in February 2011 after an investigation into possible criminal activities at the VFW Post 1126 in Warsaw.
Larry Criswell was chief financial officer for the VFW and Denise Messer was VFW club manager. Both were also arrested and charged. Criswell plead guilty in June 2011 to D felony contracting. His sentence was later reduced to a Class A misdemeanor. Messer also pleaded guilty in 2011 to a single charge of C felony aiding contracting.