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Man receives 10 years for stealing millions from VyStar

Judge upgrades sentence after testimony from boys who alleged sexual assault

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When Duane Sikes first went before U.S. District Court Judge Brian Davis after pleading guilty to stealing millions from VyStar Credit Union, he faced a recommended sentence of up to 63 months in prison. 

But following damning testimony from three men who accused Sikes of using the stolen money to groom and entice them into performing sexual acts when they were young teens, Davis decided the recommended sentence wasn’t enough. 

Judge Davis sentenced Sikes to 10 years in federal prison followed by five years of probation.

“I believe these boys,” Davis said in the Federal Courthouse in Jacksonville on Monday afternoon. “Despite the good will towards friends and family, there is also evidence he enticed children and sustained them, so he could have his way with them.”

Three men in their 20s testified over the two-day sentencing hearing that Sikes, 65, first recruited them to do work around his Jacksonville home when they were between the ages of 12 and 14. Eventually, after building trust, Sikes started making advances and offering hundreds of dollars for naked photos and sexual favors, they testified. Dozens of boys from around the neighborhood were invited to swim at drug and alcohol-fueled pool parties in Sikes' backyard, which was equipped with cameras, according to sworn statements.

One of the accusers, 22, who testified Monday said Sikes asked him for naked photos and tried to sexually assault him when he was around 15 years old. When the advances were rejected, Sikes would offer more money to get him to do what he wanted, the man testified. IRS investigators were able to make the connection to the boys after they uncovered payments made to some of their families, according to court documents.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said, Sikes spent thousands on trips, lavish dinners and gifts for the boys and other friends in his circle. Sikes told his friends the money was from a trust fund and from royalties from childhood acting, but in reality, the money came from a “well-thought-out scheme.”

According to the indictment, from 2007 to 2017, Sikes stole checks and took others that were made out to the U.S. Postmaster to the main post office downtown and bought rolls of stamps -- $3.6 million worth of stamps. The stamps were sold to Mystic Stamp Company in New York, which turned around and sold the stamps for 80 percent of their face value.

Kevin Owens, Vice President of Corporate Security and Safety at VyStar Credit Union who investigated the case, testified Monday the total amount stolen by Sikes was actually $6.8 million, which was taken over a 13-year period. None of the funds were recovered.

Owens said the scam was discovered after Sikes was fired for time card fraud, when he had another employee clock in and out for his job that paid him $32,000 a year.

“When he got caught, his house of cards fell,” Owens said. 

Ownes said the crime has tarnished the reputation of VyStar and its employees. 

Federal prosecutors characterized the embezzlement as a case of Sikes “biting the hand that feeds him,” and also accused him of hijacking the youth of the accusers. 

Davis said prosecutors presented enough evidence accusing Sikes of abuse against the boys to meet the burden of proof, which his why the sentence was higher than the recommended term.

“My conscience is shocked,” he said. 

Sikes' defense attorney Bill Kent questioned the credibility of the accusers during their testimony and wondered why they didn’t come forward sooner to report Sikes' behavior. All who testified said they were too scared and embarrassed at the time.

Kent noted that Sikes had never been charged with any of the crimes of which he was accused.

Despite a plea agreement that would have allowed a voluntary surrender, Sikes was immediately taken into custody following the sentencing. 

Sikes will undergo psychosexual counseling following his release and is not allowed to have contact with anyone under 18 years old without permission.

“I think we are all on the same page: justice was served,” one of his accusers, who we are choosing not to identifying, told News4Jax. “I want to move on.”

Sikes is also required to repay more than $5.2 million that he embezzled from VyStar Credit Union. 

After Davis handed down his judgment, Kent said the sentence was not reasonable and implied Sikes would file an appeal.