By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) – The billionaire creator of Beanie Babies, Ty Warner, will serve two years of probation, including mentoring high school students, following his guilty plea on a tax evasion charge, but no jail time, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
Warner, 69, who pleaded guilty in October, told U.S. District Court Judge Charles Kocoras in Chicago that he was sorry, and called it the biggest mistake of his life. Warner already had agreed to pay a civil penalty of nearly $53.6 million.
Kocoras cited Warner’s many acts of charity in imposing two years’ probation as requested by his attorneys, rather than the prison term sought by prosecutors.
“Society will be best served by allowing him to continue his good works,” Kocoras said.
Warner, who in 2013 was ranked as the 209th richest American by Forbes, “went to great lengths” to hide from his accountants and the Internal Revenue Service more than $3.1 million in foreign income generated in a secret Swiss bank account, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago.
Beanie Babies, small plush toys sold for $5 to $7, have been popular with collectors. At their peak of popularity in the 1990s, some collectors would pay hundreds of dollars for a rare character on the resale market, according to press accounts.
Warner’s net worth was listed as $2.6 billion in 2013, according to Forbes.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Ken Wills and Gunna Dickson)