Longtime Richmond, Virginia dentist Edward D. Gardner Jr. trusted his close friend and business partner, David Kagey, "as much as I trusted anybody."
"I thought he was my best friend," Gardner testified Thursday in Chesterfield County Circuit Court. "I loved him like a brother. I trusted him implicitly."
The two men and their wives traveled and took vacations together as their business relationship evolved over a decade. Their bonds of friendship seemed only to grow as Gardner hired Kagey to oversee his successful dental practice on Forest Hill Avenue and then help develop a lucrative side business that brought them additional financial rewards.
To Gardner, it now seems largely a mirage.
For at least five years, Kagey methodically and with no apparent regret stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from his best friend and confidant until Gardner's practice nearly collapsed. Employees' salaries had to be cut, along with the number of days the practice could operate. Three of the four dentists were let go, leaving only Gardner.
In a bit of irony, the ongoing theft forced Gardner to lay off even Kagey — a decision that Gardner said he deeply regretted at the time.
"It seemed that we should have been doing better than we were," Gardner testified. "But we seemed to be falling further and further behind in paying our bills."
Before Gardner and his daughter discovered the theft, Kagey had siphoned off at least $422,000 between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2010. A forensic accountant hired by Gardner believes the loss totaled as much as $750,000.
David Kagey's "lies, deceit and longtime betrayal" — as Chesterfield prosecutor Larry S. Hogan described it — culminated Thursday in a three-year prison term for Kagey.
Judge Harold W. Burgess Jr. sentenced Kagey, 57, to a total of 40 years in prison with 37 years suspended on four felony counts of embezzlement, to which Kagey had pleaded guilty in September. At Hogan's urging, Burgess deviated up from state sentencing guidelines, which called for probation and no incarceration — largely because David Kagey had no criminal record.
The theft, Burgess said, "represents a continuous pattern of deceit" that was made worse by the "unusually close relationship" between Kagey and his victim.
But the judge did give Kagey credit for living a law-abiding life tarnished by one mistake, and successfully raising two children with his wife of 30 years. At one point, all of them stood in support of him. "It's sad to see a man like you before me," the judge said.
The judge ordered Kagey to pay $439,191.89 in restitution to Gardner, which includes about $16,000 Gardner collectively paid to his daughter and the forensic accountant to unravel the theft. When Kagey is released at age 60, he must repay a minimum of $1,000 a month.
Aside from the theft, David Kagey "has had an otherwise exemplary life," defense attorney G. Manoli Loupassi said, and has at all times admitted to his "guilt, his embarrassment and his shame."
The attorney explained Kagey's thievery as "stealing to pay" for a lifestyle that was beyond his middle-class means, and "trying to be something he's not."
But Hogan described David Kagey as a callously deceptive man who "fidgeted like a 3-year-old" when caught in lies during questioning by a Chesterfield detective. When Gardner's dental practice was on the verge of insolvency, Hogan noted, Kagey admonished employees to cut back on basic supplies — while he used stolen funds to play country club-level golf and spend $17,000 at Paper Moon, a topless club in South Richmond.
Hogan said Kagey had none of the usual vices — gambling, alcohol or drugs — that would explain why he stole such vast sums. "It was all spent frivolously," the prosecutor said.
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