A plastics recycling manager and his brother will spend the next several years in a minimum-security federal prison for defrauding Sonoco Products Co. of more than $2.25 million over a seven-year period. James Vinyard, a former manager at Sonoco, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and money laundering, both federal offenses, U.S. District Attorney Buddy Bethea said May 26 in a telephone interview from his Florence, S.C., office.
Vinyard's brother, Michael, an Ottumwa, Iowa, lawyer, received five years and 10 months in prison for the same crimes. James received a lesser sentence thanks to a plea deal in which he testified against Michael, Bethea said.
"Once they get out of jail they're on supervised release for three years," Bethea added.
The Vinyard brothers also each must repay $125,000 to Sonoco and $1.4 million to the company's insurance carrier, Bethea said.
The embezzlement began in 1990, at the onset of James Vinyard's appointment as Sonoco's plastics recycling manager. He was in charge of purchasing recycled resin and post-consumer grocery bags for Hartsville, S.C.-based Sonoco, according to U.S. District Court records.
That same year, Michael and James teamed up to form Charles Stewart Enterprises Inc., which they portrayed as a legitimate resin brokerage company, and to which they steered Sonoco's business while concealing the firm's ownership, records show.
The brokerage company purchased resin pellets and had them shipped to Sonoco, but the invoices came to Charles Stewart Enterprises. The Vinyards doctored the invoices to indicate a higher price for the resin — which allowed them to overcharge Sonoco by more than $1 million, court documents show.
The firm also overcharged for grocery bags by more than $1.25 million before James Vinyard was fired from Sonoco in 1997, according to court records.