Ex-federal investigator lost job after baseball-card addiction led him to moonlight as Amazon and Uber driver
By Lukas I. Alpert
Sean Nelson's collecting led him to financial ruin and almost blew up his marriage; now he has been sentenced for using his government car for sideline gigs.
It's a cautionary tale for anyone whose collecting habit has maybe gotten a bit out of hand.
A former federal agent blew up his career after getting caught using his government car to moonlight as an Amazon and Uber driver to help sustain his baseball-card addiction.
Sean M. Nelson, 44, of Mesa, Ariz., was sentenced this week to two years probation and ordered to pay back $134,000 the government argued he had misappropriated by working his sideline gigs while on the job.
Nelson had been a special agent for the Department of Homeland Security for more than a decade in Arizona when his finances and marriage began falling into ruin due to his out-of-control habit of buying baseball cards, court documents said.
Psychologists classify uncontrollable collecting as a type of behavioral addiction, similar to compulsive gambling, eating, video game playing, shopping or sex addiction. An addiction to collecting could manifest itself in the buying of anything from fine art to model trains.
Starting in 2019, Nelson began working on the side delivering packages for Amazon (AMZN) and driving passengers for services like Uber (UBER) and Lyft (LYFT), to help pay off his spiraling credit card debts, the documents said.
The financial strain from his collecting habit put heavy pressure on his marriage and led him and his wife to attend couple's counseling, the records showed.
Federal prosecutors say that over the next two years, Nelson, a father of four, regularly worked his other jobs while he was on the clock as an investigator, during which time he frequently used his government-issued car to deliver packages and ferry ride-share passengers. He also had the government pay for the gas.
He was charged in October and pleaded guilty right away to a charge of theft of government property, court records show. As part of his plea, Nelson agreed to resign from his post.
"As a result of the conviction, Mr. Nelson has forfeited much of his salary during the time period of his on-the-job criminal activity, and as a federal felon he'll never lawfully possess or use a firearm ever again," said Gary Restaino, the U.S. attorney for Arizona. "His dereliction of duty was a grave disservice to his hard-working law enforcement colleagues and the taxpayers alike."
Before joining the Department of Homeland Security in 2010, Nelson had previously worked as a federal air marshal, a federal and Arizona prison guard and had served in the Air Force, during which he spent time in Iraq.
"No one knew the hobby of collecting would turn into an addiction," his mother wrote in a letter to the judge. "He is willing to pay the fine and has the support of all of his family. He has already lost his job and his pension... . Please do not punish him any more."
A message left with Nelson's attorney wasn't immediately returned.
-Lukas I. Alpert
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 26, 2023 12:00 ET (17:00 GMT)
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