HOLLIDAYSBURG - The Altoona man who spent thousands of dollars mistakenly transferred into his First Commonwealth Bank checking account in 2007 will serve a year of house arrest and then be on probation for six years.
Herbert Starbird, 58, of 905 25th Ave. also must repay First Commonwealth Bank $157,206 and perform 500 hours of community service, according to the sentence handed down Thursday by Senior Judge Thomas G. Peoples Jr.
Starbird thanked Peoples for the sentence because, as Starbird's attorney Thomas M. Dickey pointed out after the hearing, the standard range of the state's sentencing guidelines called for a minimum sentence behind bars of anywhere from nine to 16 months.
This means that Peoples could have sent Starbird to a state correctional institution. Peoples, however, revealed he had no intention of sending the retiree to prison.
Starbird "exercised bad judgment and gross stupidity" by spending money mistakenly placed in his bank account, Peoples said. But Peoples said he found the suggestion that Starbird, who had no prior criminal record, go to jail "offensive to the conscience of this court."
Starbird asked for consideration from the judge, stating he and his wife have two young children to raise.
"I'm sorry it came to this," he said.
Starbird's life changed dramatically on October 2007 when he went to the bank and determined he had $280,000 in his account - a shock, he explained during his March jury trial, because his account had been low.
He insisted he contacted the bank and was told there was no mistake.
Starbird said he reasoned that possibly a relative, who has just sold their home, was giving him money. He admitted spending a good portion of the $280,000 before bank officials realized in February 2008 that a mistake had been made.
Altoona attorney Fred Gieg, representing the bank, said Starbird knew the money was not his and he emphasized that at one point Starbird transferred $40,000 of the bank's money to another financial institution.
Despite that, he only made one restitution payment of $5,500.
Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio said the bank and police didn't rush into criminal charges. There were attempts to have Starbird begin repaying the money, and an offer was made to place him on Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition under which his criminal record would eventually be expunged.
"Because of his obstinacy and his desire to maintain as much of the money as he could, that's why we are here," Consiglio said.
Starbird could not be sentenced for obstinacy or stupidity, Dickey argued. It was the bank's mistake, he said.
Consiglio said he was "a little surprised" Starbird didn't receive some jail time.
Starbird will have work out a repayment schedule with the Blair County Office of Costs and Fines.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.