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Prison for York County man who 'plundered' sport-fishing club in Maryland

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A Windsor Township man has been sentenced to prison for embezzling more than $130,000 from the nonprofit Maryland sport-fishing association where he was executive director.

David Jeffrey Smith, 40, of the 1600 block of Rosebrook Drive, appeared in Maryland's Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Thursday and was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but 18 months of that sentence suspended, according to court records.

He also was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to pay $136,200 in restitution to the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association, records state.

"He's going to have to live with what he's done," said Maryland attorney Stephen Shechtel, who represents the MSSA and who was a member for more than 30 years. "He put us out of business. … There's nothing left to save."

Despite the MSSA not being in existence anymore, it still has significant debts. The organization had about 8,000 members, the attorney said.

"It owes so much money to so many people and so many entities," Shechtel said. "There's almost a hundred grand just in bank loans."

David J. Smith, former executive director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association.

If Smith fails to pay restitution, he will be in violation of his probation and could be jailed for the balance of his prison term, the attorney said.

Defense attorney David Zwanetz, who represents Smith, declined comment. Assistant state's attorney Colleen McGuinn did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.

The repercussions: Thursday's sentencing was a sad day for everyone involved, according to Shechtel. Not only did the embezzlement destroy the MSSA, but "the recreational fishing community no longer has a voice in Maryland in setting regulations and policies affecting recreational fishing," he said.

"We tried to convey to the court that David's conduct has affected advertisers, marinas, tackle shops, boat sales, restaurants — it affected everything associated with the recreational fishing community," he said. "I used to consider David a friend. How would you feel if your friend goes to jail? And how would you feel if your friend stole money from you? Are we happy (with the sentence)? No one's happy.

"Mr. Smith has a 2-month-old baby and a wife, and he's now labeled as a felon," the attorney said. "He had a bright future. That bright future is gone. What does the future hold for his wife and child?"

Smith also has older children from a previous marriage, Shechtel said.

"The MSSA's losses far exceeded the amount of the (restitution) judgment," he said, adding that in calculating the MSSA's total losses, "I gave David every benefit of the doubt."

The background: Smith pleaded guilty in January to a felony count of theft by scheme, according to court records.

He's already been ordered by a Maryland civil court judge to pay more than $136,000 to the MSSA, Shechtel has said.

The civil judgment was handed down Sept. 13, 2019, after a one-day trial in Anne Arundel County Court.

That also was the day Smith was arrested on criminal charges, immediately after the civil case concluded.

"They led him out of court in handcuffs," Shechtel said.

'Plundered': The lawsuit filed by the MSSA said Smith "plundered" the organization.

The association hired Smith as associate executive director in 2008, then promoted him to executive director the following year.

"In 2016, Smith informed the Board of Directors that the MSSA was experiencing financial difficulties," the lawsuit states. "Smith withheld from the Board of Directors that MSSA's liabilities had increased by 1,765% (not a typo) and that its total equity had declined by 53%."

In 2017, Smith withheld from the board that liabilities had increased another 136% and that the association's total equity had declined another 53%, according to the suit.

Smith took out bank loans and a line of credit in the association's name and used the money for his personal benefit, according to the lawsuit.

He also made personal charges on an MSSA credit card issued to him, the lawsuit states.

No tournaments: Shechtel said the association, which promoted fishing and education for anglers, couldn't sponsor tournaments or qualify for insurance for tournaments after the embezzlement.

He said the association officially incorporated in 1981 but existed for years before that as an anglers' club.

In late January 2019, MSSA's president learned it was being evicted from its headquarters for failing to pay the rent.

"Smith withheld from the Board of Directors that he had not paid rent to the landlord for several months," the lawsuit states.

The association also learned that Smith failed to pay tournament winners from MSSA's 2017 fall fishing tournament, according to the lawsuit.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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