Inside Superior Court Judge James Marion's Santa Ana courtroom today, William Phillip Armentrout of Anaheim turned to his weeping wife, Vicki, and mouthed the words, "It's okay."
A minute later, Marion ordered bailiffs to handcuff and take the 32-year-old Armentrout away for his four-year trip to a California prison.
Armentrout turned again to this wife and this time uttered out loud, "I love you."
It was lovely sentiment from a maintenance worker without any military service who'd just been sentenced for stealing $42,158 from the Veterans Administration (VA) by posing as his father, a Vietnam War veteran who'd died in 2005 of terminal brain and lung cancer, and cashing 18 forged checks at liquor stores, mostly in Placentia.
Armentrout, who has been in custody since his 2008 arrest, hasn't spent much time with Vicki because she is on formal probation for abusing his multiple sclerosis-battling elderly mother, according to court records; folks on probation can't visit other criminals--in this case, another blow to traditional family values.
When police arrested him, Armentrout--a longtime drug addict, high-school drop-out and electrician who has been to prison multiple times because of a willingness to steal--tried an explanation: Before dying, his father had told him to take the federal money as his "inheritance."
Apparently nobody in law enforcement believed the tale.
Armentrout's scheme, which was aided because he shares his father's name, allowed him to purchase illegal narcotics and prostitutes before VA officials became wise.
But family and friends urged Marion to go easy on "Billy" because, they argued, he's "honest, helpful and kind."
Armentrout, who has "Made In USA" tattooed on his knuckles, told the judge he wanted another "chance" at freedom because "I'm tired of being involved in crimes" and dreams of owning his own construction company.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Douglas D. Brannan wanted a five-year prison term, claiming Armentrout had lied on the witness stand during the trial.
But Marion decided the appropriate punishment was a "mid-term" sentence of four years, which will be reduced by 514 days' credit for time served in the Orange County Jail. He also ordered Armentrout to pay $6,216 in restitution to the VA.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly