Seymour gets 10 years in prison
Former Missoula International Airport Director John Seymour, left, reacts in court Monday while his brother offers emotional testimony during Seymour's sentencing hearing for stealing $645,000 in public funds. Next to Seymour is his attorney, Milton Datsopolous. Seymour was sentenced to 10 years in the Montana State Prison.
Photo by KURT WILSON/Missoulian

Muffled sobs and the whir of ceiling fans were the only sounds in Missoula District Court on Monday afternoon when Judge Ed McLean ordered the county's former airport director to serve 10 years in the Montana State Prison.

When McLean read the sentence, John Seymour remained still and silent, as he had for much of the emotional two-hour hearing. He was immediately taken to jail, and will not be eligible for parole for 2 1/2 years.

In March, Seymour pleaded guilty to four felonies and two misdemeanors in the theft of $645,000 in public funds from the airport.

In all, he received four 10-year terms, one for each felony, and two six-month jail terms for each misdemeanor. McLean suspended all but the first prison term.

Seymour, 47, will be under state supervision for the next 41 years.

Seymour's attorney, Milt Datsopolous, had asked McLean for a 12-year sentence with seven years suspended - and the possibility that Seymour could serve his time in a prerelease center or other community setting.

But McLean gave Seymour the tough sentence because of the large amount of money embezzled "while you were perhaps the highest paid employee in Missoula County," he said.

To put the stolen sum in perspective, McLean said it amounted to more than twice the annual capital expenditure on remodeling at the courthouse.

And Seymour started his scheme within weeks of taking the director's job at the airport, where he had worked his way up from a maintenance position. An accountant noticed the missing money last November.

There will be at least one more hearing in the case to determine Seymour's restitution.

Using loans and gifts from family members, Seymour has repaid the stolen money. But the airport is asking for an additional $125,201 in restitution for legal fees and other costs incurred as a result of Seymour's theft.

Eight witnesses spoke on Seymour's behalf during Monday afternoon's hearing. The picture of Seymour that emerged was one of a terribly depressed and withdrawn man. Some feared he was suicidal. His brother said Seymour had spent months alone in a dark room with blankets over his head.

None could reconcile the wonderful, supportive and caring man they know with the convicted felon in a white shirt and khaki pants who sat in the courtroom.

The first few witnesses knew Seymour from professional relationships.

Rick Griffith, airport manager in Silver Bow County, said Seymour was a great mentor, "a pillar of the airport community" and "above reproach." Missoula County Commissioner Barbara Evans said: "People have many qualities, some good and some bad. He did something really stupid. But that doesn't make him 100 percent stupid."

Seymour's brother-in-law, Barry Evans, said Seymour and his wife and daughter have been devastated by the crime.

"I cannot understand the action. It is inexplicable," said Evans, an airline pilot from Delaware.

Seymour will be "branded for the rest of his life as an embezzler. He has inflicted on himself more punishment than a court could possibly do," said Loren Evans, his father-in-law and a renowned veterinarian and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania.

Yet Seymour "doesn't belong in confinement," said Loren Evans, who gave Seymour $100,000 from his retirement to help repay the stolen money.

"I would give him more if I could," he said.

Seymour's uncle, a retired mechanic from Butte, spoke next.

"I'm his uncle and his best friend, I hope," said Martin Seymour. He also lent money to Seymour.

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"Everybody should have a second chance to right their wrong," he said.

The last witness was Seymour's younger brother, an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard.

He told how Seymour had stepped in to take care of the family when their father died. He was only 16 at the time. The family home was "literally falling down," he said, until his older brother went to work on it.

Glenn Seymour said he would take his brother's punishment, if he could. "Please make some sort of good come out of this," he said to McLean.

Tears streamed down the faces of Seymour's daughter and nieces during the final testimony and the reading of a letter from Seymour's sister.

All the while, Seymour sat forward in his chair between his lawyers, sipping water from time to time from a paper cup. He broke down only for a moment, during his brother's testimony.

District Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg called no witnesses. He only asked the court to note a few facts. Seymour did not immediately take full responsibility for his actions. He first tried to shift the blame when asked about the missing funds. Also, the case has not ruined him financially. His net worth remains over $400,000, Van Valkenburg said.

"Prison won't end his life. If someone violates the public trust, he should pay the price," Van Valkenburg said.

On his own behalf, Seymour apologized and said he accepted the consequences of his actions.

Reporter Robert Struckman can be reached at 523-5262 or rstruckman@missoulian.com

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