Montana Man Sentenced After Gambling Away Iowa Derecho Victim’s Repair Money

Written By Russ Mitchell on July 5, 2022 - Last Updated on July 22, 2022
Derecho scam

A Belgrade, Montana man will spend 14 months in prison after he posed as a handyman and gambled away a disabled Iowan’s derecho repair money at an Iowa casino.

William Allen Hurlbut Jr. received the prison sentence Thursday in US District Court.

In a plea agreement, and at his plea and sentencing hearings, Hurlbut admitted he came to Iowa after a severe windstorm swept through Cedar Rapids on Aug. 10, 2020. The 57-year-old claimed to be a handyman doing business as “Trinity 321.”

The Cedar Rapids victim and federal prosecutors learned that Hurlbut:

  • lacked a required contractor license,
  • obtained a cell phone number with a local 319 area code to set up his scam,
  • and spent at least $22,533 gambling at an Iowa casino.

Thursday’s prison sentence came after a Feb. 23 guilty plea to one count of mail fraud.

How Hurlbut’s derecho gambling scam worked

The 2020 Iowa derecho brought winds of over 140 mph to the city of Cedar Rapids. The straight-line windstorm rendered more than 1,000 housing units unlivable. Hurlbut targeted a resident who needed at least $10,000 worth of repairs to the home’s siding, fences and interior.

As a statement from the US Attorney’s Office explains, the repairs were especially important because Hurlbut’s victim was using a wheelchair to navigate the home.

“Instead of repairing the derecho damage to the victim’s residence, Hurlbut spent insurance funds advanced to Hurlbut for the repair costs on gambling and personal items and expenses. Hurlbut made false statements to his victim about the status of the project and made purchases at a home improvement store on the false pretense that he was buying materials to complete the project.”

Hurlbut then returned the items for a cash refund.

The investigation revealed that, over a two-week period in October 2020, Hurlbut gambled away the $22,533 at an Iowa casino.

The derecho gambling scam continued into 2021, according to Assistant United States Attorney Timothy L. Vavricek:

  • On Jan. 25, 2021, Hurlbut had a tow truck tow the victim’s vehicle from the victim’s backyard to a junkyard without purchasing it from the victim or getting his permission.
  • In February, Hurlbut convinced his victim to loan him $1,000 for lodging and food, which Hurlbut never repaid.
  • Through March 2021, Hurlbut performed little to no work on the project despite the fact that the victim had advanced more than $10,000 to Hurlbut for the repairs.

Prison sentence begins

Hurlbut received credit for time he served in federal and state custody. He’ll serve another 14 months and 12 days in prison.

He’ll then have to up to 180 days in a halfway house upon his release. He also has to pay $15,892.79 in restitution to his victim. Hurlbut will be under three years of supervised release after the prison term as well.  There is no parole in the federal system.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department conducted the investigation.

Criminal behavior is a warning sign of problem gambling.

If you or someone you know is struggling with compulsive gambling, there are resources in Iowa to help.

Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH)
Your Life Iowa
National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)

Photo by Charlie Neibergall / AP
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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