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Former Olympic pole vaulter from Portland lands 3-month federal prison term for fraud

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 15, 2022

Kory M. Tarpenning clears the 5.6-meter pole vault in this screenshot from video. Tarpenning, of Portland, was sentenced Thursday to three months in federal prison for failing to report about $1.9 million in income and wages over five years while living in Monaco.  (YouTube)
Kory M. Tarpenning clears the 5.6-meter pole vault in this screenshot from video. Tarpenning, of Portland, was sentenced Thursday to three months in federal prison for failing to report about $1.9 million in income and wages over five years while living in Monaco. (YouTube)
By Maxine Berstein Oregonian

Kory M. Tarpenning, a former two-time U.S. Olympic pole vaulter from Portland, was sentenced Thursday to three months in federal prison for failing to report about $1.9 million in income and wages over five years while living in Monaco.

Tarpenning, a 59-year-old athlete-turned-entrepreneur, told U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman that he “deeply regretted” his behavior and apologized to all he affected.

He pledged to “fix what I have broken” and asked the judge to treat him with mercy.

Tarpenning failed to report money he received from a commission contract he was awarded after arranging a sponsorship between Nike, Inc. and Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club SA (“AS Monaco”), a professional soccer team in Monaco. The commission contract was worth over 2.1 million euros, which is about $2.4 million, according to federal prosecutors.

Tarpenning failed to account for income he received from his interests in the consulting companies Sirius Group and Sirius Sports Marketing, a company called Tar.CaSAM that operates a Nike store in Monaco and from the Downstream Monaco SAM consulting firm in Portland, according to prosecutors.

He transferred his business distributions to his personal bank accounts to pay for a second home in Eugene worth $500,000 in 2015 and to pay for his children’s private school tuition in Monaco, they said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan D. Knight urged the judge to send Tarpenning to prison for a year and a half for his multi-year crime that resulted in a large loss to the government. Tarpenning pleaded guilty in September to one count of filing a false tax return.

Knight said the recommended sentence took into account that Tarpenning had no prior record, his early and consistent acceptance of responsibility, as well as the potential collateral damage a prison term would have on Tarpenning’s wife, who suffers from a debilitating disease and relies on the care of her husband.

Tarpenning also has agreed to pay restitution of $670,851, equal to the amount of taxes he underpaid.

Fellow prosecutor Meredith D.M. Bateman urged the prison term to “convey to future tax evaders that this type of deliberate, illegal, multi-year conduct will not result in a slap-on-the-wrist.”

Defense lawyers George M. Clarke III and Michelle Kerin argued for a probationary sentence of three years.

Clarke said the crime should be viewed as a “single black mark” in his client’s otherwise exceptional life, one in which Tarpenning has given his time and energy toward charitable causes, including helping youth and adult athletes and enabling disabled people to enter the workforce.

They asked the judge to consider that Tarpenning immediately “owned up” to his crime once contacted by investigators and that he’s the primary caretaker for his wife and their four sons.

The crimes were done to support his family, not to line his own pockets, his lawyers argued.

They blamed Tarpenning’s offenses on the loss of a large client that placed his family in a precarious financial situation and resulted in his “misguided choice to underpay” the federal government and use the money to stabilize his family’s financial condition, according to their sentencing memo.

Tarpenning is a marketing consultant and owner of numerous foreign businesses in France and Monaco. His primary work is as a brand consultant to U.S. companies interested in expanding their business operations to Monaco. Tarpenning also owns several Monegasque consulting companies, including Sirius Group SAM and Sirius Sports Marketing.

In 2014, Tarpenning arranged a sponsorship agreement between Monegasque professional soccer club Association Sportive de Monaco Football Club SA, also known as AS Monaco, and Nike European Operations. The agreement was valued at 20 million euros over its five-year term, according to court records.

The soccer club executed a contract with Sirius Group to pay Tarpenning a 9% commission on cash payments from Nike and a 6% commission on athletic wear ordered by the team. Between 2014 and 2018, AS Monaco paid Tarpenning at least 2.1 million euros.

Tarpenning transferred the income from deals with AS Monaco and other companies to joint personal bank accounts in Monaco and the U.S., prosecutors said.

The judge said he viewed the criminal hiding of income from the government as a less serious offense than the theft of money stolen directly from other people. He called the sentencing guidelines “fundamentally flawed” because they fail to make such a distinction.

Mosman said he considered Tarpenning’s crime-free life and charitable activity, his age, his quick acceptance of responsibility and cooperation with investigators when fashioning the sentence.

Mosman also wasn’t swayed by the prosecution’s argument that Tarpenning was driven by greed, but instead turned to fraud when his financial condition was falling apart.

“The idea of Monaco is unusual here and sort of puts a patina of luxury over the whole case that I think, if I drill down a little further, doesn’t hold up,” he said. “So I accept this is not the worst kind of fraud case, where the person is buying luxury items and living it up.”

Mosman said he also took into account the potential damage a prison term would have on Tarpenning’s family, but noted he metes out punishment every week that causes all kinds of collateral damage to families and is often more severe.

“It’s sort of a sad irony that very often, the people who have the most to lose by prison are people who have the most before they went to prison,” Mosman said.

“Mr. Tarpenning’s wife needs him desperately and will suffer greatly without his care, especially in a pandemic where getting outside care is a challenge,” the judge said. “If I’m to take that seriously, then I’ve got to impose a solution or at least significant mitigation.”

He rejected the prosecution’s suggestion to shave off six months of a two-year prison sentence.

“I appreciate the government’s fair-mindedness … and recognizing this collateral harm,” Mosman said. “It’s just that doesn’t do anything, really, to mitigate much or to solve the problem.”

Tarpenning was ordered to voluntarily surrender to the U.S. Marshal’s Service on Feb. 17 to serve his three months in prison, which will be followed by a year of supervised release.

Tarpenning, who is from Portland, represented Team U.S.A. in pole vault at two Summer Olympic Games, in Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992, where he placed fourth. He holds an MBA from Boston University and lives in Monaco. After his athletic career, he moved to Monaco and was involved in the opening of the country’s first Starbucks coffee house in 2013.

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