The former chief financial officer of Brooklin Boat Yard who admitted stealing $815,000 from the company over 16 months in 2014 and 2015 was sentenced Friday to seven years and seven months in federal prison.
Steven Nygren, 51, of Salem, Massachusetts, also was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Bangor to five years for supervised release and ordered to pay more than $815,000 restitution.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said in sentencing Nygren the he’d tried to see “some glimmer of goodness” in the defendant, but he could not.
“If he found a heart of gold in someone else, he’d steal it,” the judge said of Nyrgren’s character. “So, the defendant has a great mind, but he has a black heart.”
Nygren spent about half the money on a lease-to-own agreement of the Brooklin General Store and $70,000 on his daughter’s wedding, according to court documents. The rest of the money Nygren used to pay personal expenses, buy tickets to sporting events, including seats at New England Patriots games, and large gambling debts that, by his own admission, reached six figures a year.
Nygren no longer owns the Brooklin store.
He pleaded guilty in June 2017 to 63 counts of bank fraud totaling $732,000 and one count each of unauthorized use of a credit card and attempt to avoid paying taxes between June 20, 2014, and Sept. 9, 2015. The credit card fraud totaled more than $83,000. Nygren owes the IRS more than $1 million in back taxes.
Shortly before imposing the sentence, Woodcock outlined a pattern of behavior in which Nygren would become a consultant for a business, then steal from it to pay personal expenses and gambling debts. He then would move on to another business and repeat the pattern, robbing one business to repay previous thefts and spend lavishly.
“Defrauding others has been a way of life for this defendant,” the judge said. “It would have been easy, given his talent, for the defendant to earn an honest living.”
Woodcock called Brooklin Boat Yard “one of Maine’s iconic institutions, building some of the finest boats put upon the water.”
“It’s an iconic business in Maine,” the judge said. “It harkens back to our long tradition in Maine of boat building. That is something that Mainers are particularly proud of.
“A business like Brooklin Boat Yard becomes the economic lifeblood of the community,” Woodcock said. “If Brooklin Boat Yard went down, the community would just about die.”
Woodcock also said chastised Nygren for not paying his taxes. The judge said Nygren “shirked his responsibility” as a citizen and “let other other people pay for his government.”
Steve White, owner of the boatyard, told the judge that Nygren stole from a $500,000 line of credit the business had with Camden National Bank. He learned of the theft in September 2015 when Nygren told him the bank needed $100,000 that day to make payroll. Once that payroll was made, White said he was told the business still owed the bank another $100,000.
“The day he told me we couldn’t make payroll, he said he had tickets to a Patriot’s game that night and really wanted to go,” White told Woodcock. “I couldn’t believe it. That night he posted on social media, a picture of himself and a 20-year-old clerk from the store at the game.”
White said that now the business must make payments of more than $4,000 a month over a 10-year period to repay the bank the money Nygren stole by forging business checks. He urged Woodcock to impose a long sentence.
“He has set up his life so that he owns nothing,” White said. “He has no assets. He owns no property. He owns no cars. He has no retirement fund. He’s never going to pay this money back. His only asset is time, so he should pay with that.”
More than two dozen people, many of them boatyard employees, sat through the more than five hour sentencing hearing in support of White. Many of them wore T-shirts bearing the company name or denim shirts with the firm’s logo stitched over a pocket.
Woodcock said during the sentencing that Nygren’s home, cars and other assets are in his wife’s name.
Nygren, who suffered a major stroke in April 2016, told the judge he was deeply sorry for everything he’d done. He apologized to the court, White, the boatyard employees and his family.
“Since my stroke, I saw things, heard things and felt things more clearly,” he said. “Hearing everything you’ve heard today, that’s probably hard to believe. The store was my road to salvation and I thought it would allow me to pay the money back.”
Nygren, who now wears glasses and has grown a goatee, also said that now that he has recovered from the stroke, he’d be able to repay Brooklin Boat Yard if he served a short prison sentence.
Woodcock ordered that Nygren report to the facility designated by the U.S. Bureau of Prison on Friday, July 20.
Nygren, who originally was charged in Hancock County, faced up to 30 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $1 million on the bank fraud charges. On the use of an unauthorized access device and the tax evasion counts, he faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, respectively.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Ruge recommended a sentence of nine years. Defense attorney Roger F. Brunelle Jr. of Portland urged the judge to send Nygren to prison for 20 months.
After the sentencing, Ruge said the sentence was “appropriately serious for a very serious crime.
“This case was greatly aided by the willingness of the victim to participate in the investigation,” the prosecutor said. “Essential to this outcome was the excellent work of the the Maine State Police at the front end of this investigation and the detailed review of all the documents and witnesses by the FBI and the IRS.”
Brunelle declined to comment after the sentencing.
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