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Upton gets one year in prison for role in Champion scandal

Author(s): Joe Cyan Jr. Date: June 21, 1990 Section: NEWS

NEW ORLEANS - A former Champion Insurance Co. printing contractor was sentenced to one year in prison Wednesday for helping a Champion official hide money transactions that were supposed to be reported. Timothy Upton was ordered by U.S. District Judge Henry Mentz Jr. to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons in New Orleans by July 27 - one week before he is scheduled for sentencing on a related federal charge in Baton Rouge.

Upton, 34, of Baton Rouge, was indicted March 22 by federal grand juries in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and by an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury on charges stemming from the Champion probe. He has pleaded guilty to all the charges.

Both of the federal indictments charged Upton with a single count of structuring a financial transaction to circumvent U.S. currency reporting requirements. The parish grand jury accused him of forgery.

Mentz ordered Upton's 12-month prison term to run concurrent with the sentence he receives July 20 from U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola in Baton Rouge. Mentz, who found Upton "financially unable" to pay a fine, did not impose any fine.

Under the terms of a plea bargain agreement with federal prosecutors in New Orleans, Upton faced a minimum jail term of one year in prison and a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison.

The government recommended the 12-month sentence for Upton, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter Rothschild.

"His cooperation was very instrumental in continuing the investigation," he said.

Baton Rouge lawyer Tom Damico, who represents Upton, said the government could ask Mentz to reduce Upton's jail term in the future based on his continued cooperation.

Upton told Mentz in April that he - at Champion co-owner Naaman Eicher's behest - bought $319,519 worth of cashier's checks in amounts less than $10,000 in order to conceal Eichcr's ownership of the money and avoid federal currency transaction reporting laws.

Upton, using the checks, then purchased bearer bonds in his name for Eicher's benefit, he acknowledged.

The New Orleans grand jury alleged that Upton paid cash for the cashier's checks, which were obtained through "numerous domestic financial institutions" in Louisiana. Banks must report any cash transaction that exceeds $10,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.

Champion left an estimated $180 million in unpaid claims in Louisiana when it collapsed June 5, 1989. Champion was the state's third-largest automobile liability insurer at the time.

Naaman, his wife Tina, and his father and fellow Champion owner John Eicher Jr. are scheduled to be sentenced here Aug. 22 on federal charges stemming from Champion's failure.

Former Champion lawyer Gary O'Neill, who was indicted in New Orleans the same day as the three T.ichers and Upton, will be sentenced here July 25 on fraud charges relating to the Champion probe.

A hearing is scheduled Friday in an East Baton Rouge Parish civil court over several matters related to the liquidation of the defunct insurance firm. Liquidators want to know how the Eichers were able to raise funds to start a restaurant on Essen Lane after Champion was declared insolvent. Also, a hearing will be held to determine whether published statements by Naaman Eicher should be considered contempt of court.

Copyright 1990 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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