Sentencing planned in Ohio for trail-hiking fugitive


CINCINNATI (AP) — A Kentucky accountant who spent most of six years as a fugitive in an embezzlement case roaming the Appalachian Trail will soon learn how many more years he will spend behind bars.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott scheduled sentencing Wednesday for 54-year-old James T. Hammes in Cincinnati. The judge has said she’s weighing factors including the high amount of money involved — $8.7 million — and Hammes’ flight to avoid prosecution. He pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud.

The U.S. attorney’s office wants Hammes’ to get more than seven years in prison. Hammes’ attorneys are asking for three years, saying he’s remorseful and trying to redeem himself. The FBI arrested him in May 2015 at a Damascus, Virginia, inn during the annual Trail Days festival.

Sentencing guidelines indicate a range of 63 to 78 months. That maximum is nine months below what prosecutors are seeking. The U.S. attorney’s office seeks more than seven years in prison.

Hammes’ attorneys say he has no criminal past and has spent years contemplating his wrongdoing on the popular trail that winds more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. Their sentencing memo discusses the spiritual journey and “rediscovery” the picturesque trail offers hardy hikers, saying: “Each day spent out in Mother Nature shed light on Jim’s dark past; and as he began to understand the flaws of his character, he moved one step closer to personal redemption.”

The memo stated that he has simplified his life and become “a changed man.” It also said Hammes suspects he long suffered from depression and hopes to get mental health treatment.

Prosecutors responded that Hammes “executed a carefully planned and cowardly escape from a decade of fraud,” hiding and living off the proceeds of his crime until a fellow hiker tipped authorities. They say his sole motivation appears to be “greed and selfishness.”

The Damascus inn’s operator and fellow hikers said Hammes was known by the “trail name” Bismarck and described him as affable and popular. Authorities say he used gift cards and cash to avoid leaving a financial trail.

Hammes, a Milwaukee native, was the Lexington-based controller for the southern division of Cincinnati-based G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers Inc. The FBI said Hammes created a sham vendor account, wrote checks to it, then moved the deposits into his own accounts.

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