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    Visocan Sentenced

    Former industry leader to receive two years in federal prison

    HELENA, Mont. -- Steve Visocan, former chairman-elect of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), was sentenced by a jury Wednesday to two years in federal prison for a $1-million check-kiting scheme.

    The industry was stunned on June 28, 2002, when Visocan pleaded guilty to bank fraud a mere four days after stepping down from his NACS leadership position. Visocan was to be sworn in as chairman of NACS in October; Hank Armour is currently serving a second consecutive year as chairman.

    The case against Visocan began two years ago when First Interstate Bank in Great Falls received a returned check drawn on a Visocan Petroleum Co. account at Mountain West Bank in Helena. The $584,000 check was signed by Visocan and payable to Big Sky Fuel supply, another company owned by Visocan, according to the Helena Independent Record.

    The following day, First Interstate Bank received a second returned check for $577,000 from Mountain West Bank, also drawn on the Visocan account. The operations officer for Mountain West Bank identified the checks as part of a check-kiting scheme on June 13, 2000, after she discovered Visocan's account was overdrawn by about half a million dollars.

    Visocan has already liquidated some holdings and repaid a portion of the money owed to the banks. But, as part of his sentence, U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon has ordered Visocan to pay restitution of $675,425 at a rate of over $11,257 per month as a condition of five years of supervised release after the prison term is served.

    In addition, Mountain West Bank has filed a civil suit claiming Visocan owes the bank about $1.5 million for unpaid loans. With interest on the loans accruing daily, the bank is requesting that property owned by Visocan, including his three-store Pop Inn chain and a liquor license, be sold at sheriff's auction with the proceeds first flowing to the amount owed to Mountain West Bank.

    Visocan's attorney, Frederick Sherwood of Helena, said his client floated checks in hopes of saving a business and the employees' jobs, according to the Great Falls Tribune. "He's an overachiever, with an MBA degree. He's a CPA with experience with a national accounting firm," he said.

    Sherwood said prison would hamper Visocan's ability to make restitution. "He will lose his economic viability, and the bank stands less of a chance for recovery," he said. He estimated Visocan's current assets at $300,000.

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