Judge sentences trail-hiking fugitive to 8 years in prison

CINCINNATI (AP) — A federal judge cited the defendant’s “sheer greed” and damage to his family on Wednesday as she ordered an eight-year prison sentence for a Kentucky accountant who spent most of six years as a fugitive in an $8.7 million embezzlement case roaming the Appalachian Trail.

U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott went above even the prosecutor’s recommended sentence for James T. Hammes, 54. She pointed to the large amount of money taken in a scheme that went on more than a decade and evidence that he had long planned to assume a new identity and flee if it was discovered.

She also cited the impact on his loved ones, including his daughter, his second wife and another daughter from an affair.

Dlott said Hammes had caused “more collateral damage” than she had ever seen in a case before her.

Hammes’ attorney, Zenaida Lockard, indicated she will pursue an appeal of the sentence. Hammes, wearing an orange-and-white striped jail jump suit with his long hair pulled back in a ponytail and beard neatly trimmed, acknowledged that he had been selfish much of his life, but he told the judge he has changed and will continue to make changes regardless of the sentence.

“I am terribly sorry,” Hammes said.

He pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud. The FBI arrested him in May 2015 at a Damascus, Virginia, inn during the town’s annual Trail Days festival.

Dlott also sentenced him to three years’ probation and ordered him to continue making restitution.

Sentencing guidelines indicated a range of 63 to 78 months. The prosecutor asked for more than seven years in prison. His attorneys asked for three years.

Hammes’ attorneys said he has no criminal past and has spent years contemplating his wrongdoing on the trail that winds more than 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.

Their sentencing memo discussed 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 hide his tracks.

Hammes, a Milwaukee native who grew up in Springfield, Illinois, 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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