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Nashville Payroll Tycoon Guilty in Fraud Scheme

NASHVILLE (CN) - A federal jury convicted former Sommet Group managing partner Brian Whitfield of stealing $15 million from an employee benefit account to spend on stadium naming rights, a houseboat and other luxuries.

Whitfield, 49, was found guilty of 14 counts of fraud for allegedly using his payroll processing company to divert millions of dollars for corporate and personal expenses.

The jury acquitted Whitfield on one count of conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service by filing false tax returns.

Prosecutors said Whitfield used a significant portion of the ill-gotten funds to acquire the naming rights to Nashville's professional hockey area, which was called "The Sommet Center" until the Nashville Predators sued for nonpayment of additional fees for the naming rights.

The facility is now called the Bridgestone Arena.

"Having your corporate name in lights will not insulate its principles from federal prosecution if, through fraud, you steal the health insurance, retirement, and tax contributions of companies and citizens of the Middle District [of Tennessee]," U.S. Attorney David Rivera said in a written statement. "

Whitfield was also accused of using benefit account funds to buy a $150,000 backyard pool, a $99,000 ski boat, a $43,000 houseboat, and luxury clothing.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, employees of Sommet's clients did not receive their full amount of retirement money, medical claims were not fully paid, and taxes went unpaid as a result of Whitfield's scheme.

Whitfield also underreported and underpaid $20 million in IRS taxes, prosecutors said.

Whitfield is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 26, 2015.

Peter Strainse, Whitfield's attorney, said he and his client were disappointed by the verdict.

"There was no evidence presented of any criminal conspiracy or agreement to defraud any client of Sommet or the IRS," he said.

Whitfield's wife, Marsha Whitfield, and his father-in-law, Edwin Todd, were also indicted in the case. Both accepted plea deals in July and currently await sentencing.

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