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EMT Gets 1 1/2 Years for Embezzling Nearly $2M

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A 33-year old EMT who pleaded guilty in October to embezzling nearly $2 million from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield was sentenced Monday to a year and a half in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Under the terms of the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson in Hartford, Jeffrey Bourke must also repay the $1,985,123 embezzled from the health insurer between October 2003 and August 2006 and pay more than $428,260 in taxes owed as a result of his filing fraudulent tax returns from 2003 to 2005.

The sentence is about half the minimum recommended under federal sentencing guidelines - a departure Thompson said he was willing to go along with in light of the thousands of hours Bourke devoted to serving the community as volunteer with the Simsbury Volunteer Ambulance Association. The sentence also took into consideration Bourke's diminished mental and emotional state in the wake of accidentally shooting to death his long-time friend, roommate and fellow EMT, Douglas Underwood, in April 2001.

"What I have attempted to do is strike the most appropriate balance in your case," Thompson said.

Bourke's defense attorney, Ronald Murphy, painted Bourke as a man tortured and transformed by the guilt he felt over his friend's tragic death - a crime for which he was charged with second-degree manslaughter in 2002 but pleaded no contest and served no jail time. Had Bourke sought the psychiatric help he needed to deal with the post-traumatic stress of the incident, he probably would not have gotten into the trouble he did at Anthem, Murphy and others said.

"He has gained an enormous amount of weight, has been out of control in spending money, immersed himself into his Blue Cross work and ambulance work as if it were an addiction," Steve Underwood, Doug's father, wrote in a sentencing memorandum submitted to Thompson.

Speaking in court, Underwood and his wife, Margaret, who now live in Florida, expressed sympathy for Bourke and asked Thompson to consider sending him to a halfway house or to confine Bourke to his home so he could continue the progress he had made in counseling.

"Through counseling, we have began to see the old Jeff," Steve Underwood said.

"I don't see what purpose putting him in prison would serve," added Margaret Underwood.

Bourke was employed by Anthem from about June 2001 to August 2006. He worked in the company's eastern region marketing area and had responsibility for finance, vendor management and operations.

According to court documents, he formed, in name only, a sham company called Health Management Solutions, LLC and, starting in Oct. 2003, began using the company as a means to embezzle money from his employer. As part of his duties in vendor services, Bourke was aware of the goods and services the company contracted. Authorities say Bourke used that knowledge to create fictitious invoices that falsely represented goods and services provided to his employer by the sham company.

Bourke e-mailed the fake invoices from his fake company to his work computer at Anthem. He used management signatures to authorize payments, and had the checks sent to a mailbox at a UPS store in Simsbury. He used the money to buy watches, artwork, lavish vacations and a new home in Simsbury.

On Monday, he apologized for his behavior, telling Thompson he was ashamed, embarrassed and horrified. He then apologized to his parents, sister and wife, Lisa, who wiped away tears as he spoke.

"Never in my worst nightmare would I ever believe that I would or could deliberately commit a criminal act," he said.

Under federal guidelines, Bourke could have received 33 to 41 months. The prosecution had pressed for a stiffer sentence still, arguing Bourke should get more time because he held a position of trust in the company and abused it.

Bourke is scheduled to begin his sentence April 11.

Contact Loretta Waldman at lwaldman@courant.com

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