The former controller of Chicago’s swanky East Bank Club was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison Thursday for embezzling more than $4 million from the health facility over a seven-year period.
Peter Craig Savely, 58, of Chicago, pleaded guilty in October to one count of bank fraud, admitting he stole $4.1 million dollars from 2013 to 2020 by forging payroll checks for low-level employees and depositing the money into bank accounts he controlled.
In handing down the 51-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman said Savely’s theft was a “blatant betrayal” of his employer’s trust over a long period of time — and that there was only one explanation for the motive.
“I can only conclude that the motive was greed,” Guzman said as Savely stood sobbing at the lectern.
Before the sentenced was handed down, Savely turned to relatives and friends in the courtroom gallery, held his hands to his heart and apologized through tears.
“I am not that person,” he said after turning back to the judge. “I don’t want to be that person.”
Savely is free on bond and must report to prison by June 2. Before he left the courtroom, Guzman told him that the next several years will be difficult, but that how he chooses to spend his time behind bars will determine how things go when he’s released.
“If you truly believe you are not ‘that person.’ you now have the chance to prove it,” Guzman said.
Savely, who had worked for the club on North Kingsbury Street for 15 years, admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that from he issued purported payroll checks on the club’s bank account to four employees, signing the checks himself as the club’s controller and also forging the signature of the club’s chief financial officer.
Savely then forged the payees’ signatures to fraudulently endorse the checks and deposited them into bank accounts that he controlled, the plea agreement stated.
Savely admitted that he attempted to conceal the embezzlement by regularly making false entries in the club’s financial ledgers and causing the losses associated with the checks to be spread across multiple departments, thereby making the losses harder to detect.
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In asking for a 51-month prison term, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly M. Peirson told the judge Thursday that Savely was earning a six-figure salary while he was stealing from the club, and that his crime grew more brazen over time, ending with the theft of $800,000 in 2020 alone.
Peirson also noted that Savely put low-level, entry-level employees such as locker room custodians unwittingly at risk by using their real names to forge the checks.
Savely’s attorney, Andrew Porter, asked for a term of 2 1/2 years, noting that Savely self-reported the crime to the Department of Justice, aided prosecutors in their investigation and agreed to quickly plead guilty.
“He’s a broken man as he stands here before you, judge,” Porter said. “He’s unemployed, he’s deeply in debt. He’s lost friends and relationships.”
In a court filing last month, Porter said Savely, the son of a Lutheran minister, was a dedicated friend and uncle who lived an otherwise law-abiding life, though he did struggle with drug use at time. Porter said even the money Savely stole was “by and large used for others’ benefit.”
“Pete is even now continuing to examine why he so badly went off the loving, law-abiding path he was on,” Porter wrote. “That examination will likely continue for the rest of his life.”