Powell Man With Mystery Ukraine Wife Accused Of Stealing $1.3 Million From Newspapers

The longtime accountant of a Cody-based publisher of several Wyoming newspapers claimed some of the $1.3 million he’s accused of stealing from Sage Publishing was to support a sick wife in Ukraine.

Clair McFarland

October 12, 20237 min read

Carl Wheeler was an accountant for Sage Publishing, which owned the Gillette News Record and Cody Enterprise.
Carl Wheeler was an accountant for Sage Publishing, which owned the Gillette News Record and Cody Enterprise. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Powell man is accused of stealing more than $1 million from a Wyoming newspaper publishing company to support a woman in Ukraine he claims is his wife, court documents say.  

Carl Wheeler, 74, is scheduled for an Oct. 18 preliminary hearing to address four charges of felony theft filed Tuesday. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.  

Cody Police Department Detective Scott Burlingame learned Sept. 15 about a possible embezzlement at Sage Accounting, which is under Sage Publishing, whose parent company Kennedy-News Record LC formerly owned the Gillette News Record and Cody Enterprise.  

Sage Publishing still exercises part ownership over the Douglas Budget, a newspaper in Douglas, Wyoming, the paper’s website says.  

The investigation began when Robert Kennedy, a one-third owner of Kennedy-News Record LC, initially reported about $100,000 missing. 

But after a final accounting, court documents allege that Wheeler siphoned about $1.3 million from the company into his own and unknown checking accounts over the course of 12-and-a-half years.  

He paid back about $71,000 from his annual bonuses over the course of nine years, says an evidentiary affidavit filed Tuesday in Cody Circuit Court.  

‘The Brains Behind All This’ 

Kennedy told Detective Burlingame the company hired Wheeler 19 years ago to clean up the accounts after an earlier embezzlement involving a different accountant.  

“He’s been our guy,” Kennedy said, according to the affidavit. “We trusted him with everything. He did everything from estate planning to all of our tax returns.”  

Kennedy told Burlingame that Wheeler was “the brains behind all this,” says the document.  

A Little On The Top 

Robert Kennedy’s brother Brian Kennedy hadn’t worked for the past 25 years, and he died July 25, 2022. While he still lived, Brian would take his share of his million-dollar inheritance in the form of “loans,” or transfers from the company, the affidavit says.  

By the time he contacted police, Robert Kennedy reported he had reason to believe Wheeler was siphoning off some extra money on top of Brian’s transfers.  

And after Brian died, Wheeler kept transferring money, labelling it “loan” instead of “Brian loan,” the affidavit alleges.  

Where’s The Wife? 

The document says Kennedy went to Wheeler’s Powell home Aug. 13 to ask him about the loans and to pick up some paperwork he needed. 

Wheeler said that his wife in Ukraine has been having stomach issues, so he’d been taking out loans to himself from the company to pay her medical bills, according to Kennedy’s interview related in the affidavit.  

“I’ve been taking more than (my annual) bonuses can pay,” Wheeler reportedly said.  

The detective later asked Kennedy about Wheeler’s wife in Ukraine.  

“Robert said Wheeler had been with his wife for 10 years, and in Robert’s opinion it was a scam marriage,” wrote Burlingame in the affidavit.

Kennedy said Wheeler had told him that he planned to leave the United States and travel to Ukraine in November.  

Something Cookin’ 

Kennedy reviewed his company accounting and claimed it looked like Wheeler had been “cooking the books” by entering offsetting funds into Sage Publishing’s general ledger so the sum total for the accounts would be zeroed out and not raise red flags during Kennedy’s annual review.  

Meanwhile, Burlingame’s investigation continued.  

On Sept. 20 Kennedy emailed Burlingame, saying a First Bank (in Powell) employee had finished compiling the records from April 2011 to the present, and those indicated Wheeler had taken $1,283,551 — all transfers from Sage Publishing.  

The bank employee rendered the list as follows, the affidavit alleges: 

  • $893,950 transferred to Wheeler’s checking account from Jan. 14, 2015, to Aug. 16, 2023 
  • $264,635 transferred to Wheeler’s checking account from April 12, 2011, to Sept. 12, 2014 
  • $43,300 transferred to an unknown bank account from April 14, 2022,to Aug. 16, 2023 
  • $33,500 transferred to a Wise Account from May 11, 2022, to Aug. 16, 2023 
  • $32,165.66 to Wheeler’s checking account from Oct. 8, 2014, to Dec. 15, 2014 
  • $2,000 to an unknown bank account from April 13, 2022, to July 11, 2022 
  • $13,250 to an unknown bank account from Aug. 12, to Nov. 14, 2022 
  • $750 to an unknown bank account on March 15, 2017 

Say You’re Coming To Town 

Kennedy emailed Detective Burlingame on Sept. 20, with a forward from Wheeler.  

Wheeler’s email to Kennedy claimed that he’d taken $160,788.66, the affidavit says.  

“(That’s) approximately 13% of the actual, total amount,” Burlingame wrote of the confession email.  

Wheeler registered surprise, reportedly writing, “I had no idea it reached that level,” and adding that he had a plan to repay the debt.  

Burlingame told Kennedy to tell Wheeler that he, Kennedy, would meet with the accountant when he returned to Cody.  

But Burlingame actually knew that Kennedy already had plans to be away from Cody in the coming days.  

Nine days later, another Sage Publishing employee had gathered intel on Wheeler’s repayments to the company, finding that Wheeler had paid down his “loans” with $70,971.07 from his own annual bonuses over the course of nine years, the document alleges.  

The Visit 

Burlingame and another agent drove to Wheeler’s home Monday on Beartooth Drive in Powell, and asked if Wheeler would come visit with them at their Powell outpost.  

Wheeler said he would and arrived a short while later. He speculated the meeting had something to do with Sage Publishing, Wheeler reportedly said.  

“I borrowed some money,” he added, according to the affidavit.  

Wheeler also voiced surprise that Kennedy was not coming to town to visit with him about the money after all.  

Wheeler told detectives he came to Sage Publishing after the company’s prior accountant embezzled $87,000 over the course of three years.  

But then, “My wife got into some medical problems,” he reportedly said. “I didn’t know where else to go.”

Wheeler asked Kennedy for loans multiple times, paying them back.  

But at some point, Kennedy seemed annoyed at the requests and Wheeler quit asking permission, the affidavit says.  

“And I think that’s maybe where things got out of control,” said Wheeler.  

Higher … 

The affidavit says Wheeler told the agent he thought he had run up $230,000 in debts and would probably have to sell off his house to pay them off. 

Burlingame indicated the true amount missing was higher.  

“How much we talking about?” asked Wheeler, the affidavit relates.  

Burlingame turned the question around, asking Wheeler to divulge how much he’d taken.  

“I think we’re done talking,” said Wheeler, and the interview ended, according to the affidavit.  

To Jail 

Burlingame wrote that he decided to arrest Wheeler because he was concerned the man was a flight risk.  

“Given the current felony charges, the fact that Wheeler allegedly has a wife that lives in the Ukraine, his plans to travel to the Ukraine and the unknown amount of funds still possessed by Wheeler, I advised Wheeler he was under arrest,” says the affidavit.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter