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Former Douglas County deputy gets jail for insurance fraud

SIOUX FALLS -- Former Douglas County sheriff's deputy Robert Hotchkiss was sentenced Tuesday at the Minnehaha County Courthouse to 75 days in jail and 30 months of probation for one count of grand theft by deception.

Rob Hotchkiss
Rob Hotchkiss
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SIOUX FALLS -- Former Douglas County sheriff's deputy Robert Hotchkiss was sentenced Tuesday at the Minnehaha County Courthouse to 75 days in jail and 30 months of probation for one count of grand theft by deception.

Hotchkiss, 42, of Delmont, pleaded guilty to the felony grand theft charge Jan. 11. The charge is the result of an incident in November 2008 when he submitted fraudulent insurance applications to American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus, commonly known as AFLAC, for which he secured commission in excess of $1,000 while working as a district sales coordinator for the company.

Judge Peter H. Lieberman said determining Hotchkiss' sentence was "a more difficult than usual sentencing decision for the court" due to the seriousness of Hotchkiss' offense paired with his relatively clean criminal record.

Lieberman sentenced Hotchkiss to four years in prison, all suspended, in addition to the 75 days in jail, with work release, and 30 months of unsupervised probation.

Hotchkiss had already paid restitution of about $7,000 in the form of commission returned to AFLAC.

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Members of Hotchkiss' family, including his wife, were in the courtroom. "He made a mistake, and he is suffering the consequences of that mistake," said Hotchkiss' attorney, Donna Bucher. "I think the consequences should give him the opportunity to live once he has served his sentence."

Prior to the sentence pronouncement, Bucher and Special Assistant Attorney General Donald Srstka debated the nature of Hotchkiss' crime, as they had at the plea hearing.

Srstka, who prosecuted the case for the state, claimed Hotchkiss had submitted fraudulent insurance applications for fictitious workers for a fictitious roofing company. Bucher claimed the workers did actually exist, but said Hotchkiss had not verified their information and lost track of them when it came time for their premiums to be paid.

In an interview after the sentencing, Srstka said he felt Hotchkiss' sentence was fair, and added he hopes it will send the message that insurance fraud has consequences and will not be taken lightly by the state. Hotchkiss is due to appear at Minnehaha County Jail on April 13, unless Bucher has a judge sign an order allowing Hotchkiss to serve his jail time in another county closer to his home in Delmont.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office recently hired a new deputy who will take Hotchkiss' place following his resignation.

According to Douglas County Sheriff Jon Coler, 23-year-old Jason Babel, of Mitchell, was hired as a new full-time deputy last week and is in the process of moving to the Douglas County area. Babel will also have to complete more training before beginning regular work with the sheriff's office.

Coler replaced Troy Strid as Douglas County Sheriff in November when Strid resigned after being acquitted of petty theft for allegedly stealing property from Delmont and Douglas County and selling those items on eBay.

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