REVIEW-JOURNALMitchell Chirchick was accused of swindling hundreds of people out of Pro Bowl travel packages to Hawaii in 2007.
The victims included police officers and firefighters in Denver and a 10-year-old girl in Las Vegas who was awarded a trip through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
On Monday, more than a year after the scam took place, the 40-year-old entered an Alford plea to three theft counts related to the Pro Bowl packages.
He could be sentenced to three to 30 years in prison and will be ordered to pay back hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I sold the packages and did not provide the tickets,” Chirchick said Monday in District Court. Chirchick is in custody at the county jail and appeared in court wearing a prison uniform and shackles.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 7.
In exchange for his plea, the state attorney general’s office agreed to drop seven other counts, including a racketeering charge that would have brought a minimum 20-year sentence if Chirchick were convicted.
Chirchick entered an Alford plea, which means he didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to find him guilty if he went to trial.
Prosecutors agreed to the plea so authorities could start giving back about $200,000 confiscated from Chirchick to his victims, said Bob Giunta, senior deputy attorney general in charge of the consumer protection unit. Authorities can’t return the money until a judge sentences Chirchick.
“If we had to wait for a trial, it’s possible this thing would have dragged on for another year,” Giunta said. “We’d like to get the people who lost money reimbursed as quick as possible.”
Chirchick’s attorney, James Dean Leavitt, said Chirchick wants to resolve the matter quickly and hopes to pay back victims.
People from across the county paid Chirchick between $500 and $1,500 for travel packages to the 2007 Pro Bowl in Honolulu. The packages often included air fare, game tickets and hotel rooms, authorities said.
Instead of delivering the packages, Chirchick, through his company CEI Sports Tours, pocketed the money, authorities said. Federal authorities believe losses from the scam totaled about $800,000, according to a federal warrant for his arrest.
Chirchick left hundreds of people without packages to the Pro Bowl, authorities said, including local businessman Roger Sachs, co-owner of Steiner’s - a Nevada Style Pub in Las Vegas.
“He really hurt a lot of people’s lives at the time,” Sachs said. Sachs bought several packages from Chirchick as part of a promotion and estimated he was out $15,000.
“It wasn’t life or death, but it was heinous,” he said.
Chirchick in 2001 and 2002 pleaded guilty to mail fraud in Minnesota and was given supervised probation. In Las Vegas, he was sued on allegations that he bounced checks and didn’t follow through with payment to a bus tour service, court records show.
Sachs said he still remembers the sinking feeling he got in his stomach when he got the news that the packages he thought he paid for weren’t available.
He said he would like to see Chirchick get 10 years behind bars.
But he also understands how it could happen.
“He was a likable guy. He had the gift of gab,” Sachs said. “He seemed trustworthy.”