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A former top executive at America Online was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Tuesday for defrauding the company. U.S. District Judge James Cacheris sentenced Gregory S. Horton, 38, of Palm Beach County, Fla., to 46 months in prison for a scheme in which he allowed himself to profit from a sham consulting contract. Court records indicate that Horton defrauded AOL of $100,000 while he worked at the Dulles, Va.-based company as its executive vice president of human resources. Horton also admitted as part of a plea bargain earlier this year that he defrauded two previous employers — Florida-based AutoNation and Denver-based Qwest Communications — of more than $2 million in similar schemes. At all three companies, Horton had the ability to hire contractors or influence who was hired, and would structure deals so that contractors had to pay money to companies in which Horton had a controlling interest, according to the court records. Cacheris also ordered Horton to pay full restitution to the companies he defrauded: $1.8 million to Auto Nation and $333,000 to Qwest. AOL already had been compensated for its $100,000 loss. Horton’s misconduct is unrelated to prosecutors’ continuing investigation of accounting fraud at AOL, in which two former AOL employees have been charged with stock fraud for their dealings with a defunct Las Vegas technology company called PurchasePro. Horton’s attorney, Judith Wheat, did not return phone calls seeking comment Tuesday. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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