‘Scoop’ tells a tale of suicidal thoughts and flight to Mexico
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – It was a mystery that intrigued a community five years ago.
Affairs left unresolved, a 9-second dead air phone call to 911, a respected local lawyer, missing.
When Royal “Scoop” Daniel disappeared in April 2007, the Breckenridge community and the many people there who knew and liked him were left with more questions than answers. Some were convinced he’d died, possibly a victim of foul play.
Daniel resurfaced last December and was soon after charged with eight counts of theft and five counts of commercial bribery for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of his clients’ money, which he’d been holding during the course of real estate exchanges. Daniel pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and was sentenced Thursday afternoon.
For the victims, some of whom broke into applause when Judge Karen Romeo gave Daniel the maximum of 12 years in prison, Thursday’s sentencing hearing was about justice.
But for other members of the community, and seemingly for Daniel himself, the sentencing hearing was an opportunity for Scoop’s side of the story to finally be heard.
The courtroom was silent as Daniel talked, for nearly an hour Thursday, about the events that led up to his disappearance and what happened next.
In 2007, he’d barely been keeping his business afloat for some time, he testified, but was beginning to get things back on track financially. Until that April, when he came up $150,000 short.
Buckling under the weight of 18 months of stress and grief, he said he chose suicide over the humiliation of admitting financial defeat and closing his business.
Daniel told the courtroom that in late April 2007, he’d decided to kill himself by driving “off a mountain.” He’d even settled on Hoosier Pass.
One morning, he put his passport in his pocket, so his body could be identified if there was a fire or explosion in the aftermath of the crash, and said goodbye to his dog Ben.
“I knew he’d be OK,” Daniel testified. “I wasn’t going to survive past noon.”
It was around then that he’d dialed 911, a move he called a cry for help. But he decided emergency responders couldn’t help him, tossed his wallet and cell phone in a Dumpster and boarded a Summit Stage bus to Frisco.
He then boarded a Greyhound bus, not caring much where he was headed, he said.
“I wanted to go somewhere warm and kill myself where no one would know me,” he told the courtroom.
He ended up in a hotel in southern Mexico some days later, where he climbed over the railing of an 11th-floor balcony with every intention of jumping, he said. A woman who came out onto the balcony of an adjoining room kept him from letting go of the railing, however. He said he then intended to commit suicide later, but never did.
He found work writing online content for a U.S. company for about $600 a month.
“That was enough money to keep me alive,” he said. Scoop testified he led a hermit’s life in Mexico, with only one friend – an elderly woman in the last stages of a terminal illness.
It was her death, he told the court, that snapped him back to himself and caused him to return to the States.
“That’s when I got the courage to face the things that needed to be faced,” he said.
But prosecutors here painted a different picture, saying Scoop spent his years in Mexico drinking beer on the beach on Sundays and returned to the U.S. to open an American bank account that would save him money when depositing Social Security checks. The district attorney played a recording of Daniel’s original statement after his arrest stating the same. In the recording, Daniel stated if he’d known there was a warrant for his arrest, he likely wouldn’t have returned to the U.S.
Daniel told the court he only used his clients’ exchange money to keep his business afloat and never for personal use.
But both deputy district attorney Scott Turner and Judge Romeo said using the money to support his business was similar to using it for personal benefit, as the business existed to benefit him.
“The fact that he was taking money for (the) LLC does not make him a bad businessman,” Turner said. “It makes him a thief.”
When Daniel disappeared, approximately half of the missing $900,000 was recovered from various bank accounts, with some of it redistributed to the victims. But nearly half a million dollars is still unaccounted for, Turner said.
“His sob story was just that – a tale of businesses practices, then deception, then outright theft of money that did not belong to him,” one victim, Mark Newkirk, told the Daily in an email. “About the time he gets out of jail, I’ll be making final payments on loans I had to take to keep us afloat. I asked the judge for the max term, and thankfully she gave it to us.”
Daniel was ordered to pay $460,000 in restitution at the end of the two-and-a-half hour sentencing hearing, in addition to the jail time. He will also have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
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