NEW PORT RICHEY — What's a proper punishment for violating somebody's trust?
Three years of probation?
A $2,500 fine?
How about $2,590.15 in restitution?
Is that enough?
Last year, Paul Clamp, 62, of Hudson was accused of stealing from the local Disabled American Veterans Chapter 78. He was commander there at the time.
On Tuesday morning in court here, attorneys said things, victims said things, and Clamp pleaded no contest to theft. Papers were signed. People who work in the courts call this a resolution.
After the hearing, though, out in a hallway, members of the chapter weren't so sure. They weren't so much angry as they were acutely aware that what they had lost because of Clamp can't be gotten back because of anything done or said in a courtroom.
Maybe not ever.
"He took our trust," Jon Petersen said.
"Our faith," Al Bedor said.
This case started a bit more than a year ago. Clamp took a $240 check from the chapter's Saturday evening bingo fund and cashed it for himself, authorities said, and he also used the DAV credit card to buy more than $2,000 worth of gas for his personal use. Records provided by the organization showed 54 unauthorized purchases between December 2005 and September 2006.
Petersen and Bedor said Clamp bought more than just gas. Charged to the card: oil, tires, cherry coke, cologne, a We Are Marshall DVD.
Clamp was commander of the chapter for seven years.
He ran bingo for all of them.
Since he left, according to Petersen and Bedor, the bingo take at the 1,700-member chapter on Jefferson Street has more than doubled. The chapter has a soda machine, too, and apparently it used to clear about $10 to $20 a month. Now it's more like $70 or $80.
This money is used to help pay for needy veterans' food, medicine and transportation to the VA hospital in Tampa.
On the phone on Monday, the night before the hearing, Bedor called Clamp a "phony" and a "thief" and a "nobody."
"If it was Vietnam, I would've fragged his a--," Bedor said. "He would not have come back. I would've shot his a--."
On Tuesday morning, the thick-middled, pug-nosed Clamp sat in the courtroom, in the back, in the corner, close to the door, and had his arms crossed. A handful of members of the chapter sat across the aisle. The case was called a bit after 10:30.
Clamp stood in front of Circuit Judge Jack Day flanked by his two attorneys.
Petersen asked that Clamp get jail time.
Bedor did, too, and also wanted a lifetime ban for Clamp for all DAV chapters anywhere.
"This was a betrayal of trust," Day said. Then the judge announced the specifics of the sentence. The three years. The fine. The money paid back.
He asked Clamp to raise his right hand.
"Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth …"
Clamp said he did.
He was fingerprinted.
He was given a big Q-tip and the bailiff made him swab the insides of his cheeks so the state would have his DNA for the rest of his life.
He told a reporter he was okay with the sentence on his way out and then he was quick to get on an elevator and then he left the courthouse.
After he was gone, Petersen and Bedor stood in the hallway and said they had installed four security cameras at the chapter, although they were reluctant to say exactly where they are in the building. Also, they said, now two people run bingo, not just one, not anymore, not ever again. And they're going to write a letter to the state DAV and the national DAV asking if Clamp can be banned from all chapters forever.
"A lot of people trusted Paul," Petersen said.
"Now everyone's looking at each other: 'Can we trust him? Can we trust him?' "
Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.