UPDATE: Garret Sorensen Sentenced to 33 Months for Defrauding USA Drug

Garret Sorensen, the former USA Drug marketing executive who pleaded guilty in May to money laundering and mail fraud, was sentenced Monday to 33 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson.

After hearing arguments from both prosecution and defense, Wilson said he would settle on the amount of restitution Sorensen must pay in about a week.

The sentence was a disappointment to some 65 friends and relatives who attended the two-hour hearing in support of Sorensen, many of whom cried after the sentence was read.  

Sorensen and his attorney, Ted Boswell of Bryant, had asked Wilson for a sentence of probation and/or work release so that Sorensen could continue operating a flooring business with his wife and a home renovation business with his brother-in-law. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Tricia Harris asked the judge for a sentence within the range recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines, and Wilson settled on the low end of the guideline range.

Sorensen will also serve three years of supervised release after his prison sentence, which will begin Dec. 3.

Federal prosecutors and the defense team spent most of the hearing presenting testimony disputing the actual loss sustained by USA Drug, the chain of pharmacies that Stephen L. LaFrance Sr. and his family recently sold to the Walgreen Co.

From October 2005 to October 2007, Sorensen, his wife, Katherine, and her sister, Shannon Walters, operated a side business, Multi-Media Marketing, which collected a commission for advertising inserts that USA Drug placed in dozens of newspapers. The plea agreement and sentencing guideline was based on a loss of at least $400,000, but Boswell and co-counsel Floyd Clardy argued that the actual loss - the amount that should be ordered in restitution - was lower because MMM provided legitimate services that USA Drug had previously paid another company to provide.

Garret and Katherine Sorensen and Walters were originally indicted on 33 felony counts in May 2009, but all charges against Katherine Sorensen and her sister were dropped when Garret Sorensen agreed to plead guilty to two counts.

Court filings suggested that, until the plea agreement, the defense was planning to argue that Sorensen believed that Stephen LaFrance Jr., his college fraternity brother, approved of his side business. While that was never explicitly stated in court on Monday, Sorensen told Judge Wilson that he "should never have formed a related company without seeking the approval of Stephen LaFrance Sr."

Boswell, the veteran defense attorney, went much farther, telling the judge that "the culture he was surrounded with" at USA Drug encouraged Sorensen to look for a way to supplement his income. Boswell said that the children of Stephen LaFrance Sr. had side businesses that benefitted from USA Drug, and that even the unrelated president of the company, Joe Courtright, also owned a drugstore independent of USA Drug.

Courtright could not be reached for comment after the hearing.

A thick packet of letters from supporters was delivered to the judge and to prosecutors. And while Boswell said he would ask Wilson to file the letters under seal, he read from one that he said was written by a fellow vice president at USA Drug. The unidentified writer said Sorensen was "regarded as a shining star" in the company, who worked his way up and was "a go-to person" when problems needed to be solved.

Harris, the prosecutor, saw it another way. Sorensen, she said, "was given all the opportunities to do right and to do well." But after he had gained the LaFrance family's trust and became a vice president with far less supervision, he defrauded his benefactors.

"Mr. Boswell called it an aberration, but what it was was two years," Harris said.

And while Boswell said Sorensen made a "mistake" by not clearing his side business with the elder LaFrance, "The fact is, he didn't get approval from anybody," Harris said.