The western Nebraska banker who was sentenced last week to more than three years in prison for stealing $1.36 million never had anything tangible to show for his lies and deceit.
There was no expensive jewelry for Matt Monheiser's wife. No vacation adventures in exotic locales for his three children. Not even a cool indulgence for himself, like a fast car or a fishing cabin.
Instead, the money that then-bank vice president Monheiser cribbed from depositors and stole from the cash vault at Points West Community Bank in Sidney wound up in one place: the pockets of gambling promoters.
The majority of the embezzled money, about $1 million, was taken over the past three years, said Monheiser, 38. He said he spent it during gambling benders in Las Vegas, and with sports bookmakers based in Colorado and Arizona.
“They are the only people who made money off of this,” Monheiser said in an interview with The World-Herald. “I got sucked in. I chased my losses.”
Monheiser, who grew up around Sidney, pleaded guilty to the embezzlement in April. Last week, he was sentenced by a federal judge in Lincoln to 42 months in prison and ordered to pay back the stolen money plus interest. Depositors lost nothing, as the losses were borne by the bank.
Like any degenerate gambler, Monheiser said it was like riding a paper kite in an F5 tornado.
“There is no greater feeling than winning and getting that high,” he said. “I am good with numbers; I felt like I could read sports and craps.”
“At one point, I lost 11 out of 13 bets,” Monheiser lamented.
That was during college basketball season last year. Then, in August, a desperate Monheiser palmed $82,000 from the bank vault; he said it was to repay a bookmaker who kept company with some “not so nice people.” Monheiser said he was plagued with fear that he was dealing with unpredictable elements of society, that someone who would perform physical violence for nominal sums was lurking, unstable and willing.
But there was a long run-up to the cash grab from the vault.
Monheiser said he started taking money as early as 2003, $1,000 or so at a time in the beginning, when the bank was known as First National Bank of Sidney. Later, he was betting every day, falsifying cashier's checks and loans to fuel his sports betting and Vegas addictions, with bookmakers extending long lines of credit when he lost on football and basketball.
At one point toward the end, he went to Vegas with $900 stolen in one of his schemes. He didn't return for 48 hours. He rode an unbelievable winning streak at the craps table, turning the modest bankroll into an incredible $127,000. He took the winnings in cash and cabbed over to another casino, one with higher betting limits. There, he doubled his money.
The end of the story is probably no surprise. Monheiser not only lost the quarter-million, he lost an additional $50,000 the casino extended him in credit. Monheiser said he was blind to the loss — he was chasing a million-dollar win, the amount he needed to repay all he had stolen.
Anything less was meaningless, he said, reflecting the all-or-nothing ethos of the addicted bettor.
Even then, Monheiser said, repaying the money probably would not have solved anything, as he would still have been an addict, one with an undiscovered scheme to misappropriate large amounts of money at will.
“I don't know where I would have ended up had I paid it back,” Monheiser said. “It would have perhaps been a horrible thing.”
He said he hid and lied about his gambling for years. He popped pills to achieve a few hours of sleep on the nights that he did. His children are ages 13, 6 and 4. The older child knows everything, the younger ones less.
“That will be the hardest thing,” he said, referring to when the younger kids will deserve a full explanation of their father's past.
Monheiser said his wife never knew. It was a bank colleague who caught him, a loan clerk who is a longtime friend.
“It was a relief,” he said. “I thanked her.”
The abuse of trust was enormous. Monheiser was a stock owner in the nine-branch bank. He was on close terms with the other owners and executives. He was moving up the ladder, he said, destined one day to join top management, perhaps as chief credit officer. He was well-liked, he said, and volunteered in many of the right places, chairing the 2007 Cattlemen's Ball.
Monheiser said he always had an eye on a career in finance. He graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a finance degree and went to work with the bank in 2001 as a loan officer.
“Not to brag, but I was an excellent ag banker,” Monheiser said.
Monheiser also said he always had a gambling itch, even in high school, betting on golf games with friends and other small-stakes wagers. It didn't become a problem until later, he said.
In the end, he confessed to all of it, said Clarence Mock, his Omaha attorney. Monheiser cashed out his bank stock and took early withdrawal penalties on retirement savings to get the restitution started, Mock said. His family lent a big hand, and $500,000 already has been deposited toward the repayment.
In addition, Monheiser said, he received treatment for his gambling addiction in Virginia.
Monheiser could have faced a maximum of 30 years in prison. “There is no question that Matt's early attempts at rehabilitation and restitution played a large role,” Mock said of the 42-month sentence.
Monheiser, who is scheduled to report to a to-be-determined federal prison in August, said gambling addiction warps a person's mind and leads him to do things he ordinarily would not. But he didn't call it a disease to which people are predisposed or which excuses their behavior.
“The finger points directly at me,” he said. “What I did was morally wrong in every sense.”