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FORMER MAYOR GETS PROBATION, NOT PRISON

Date: August 31, 2006
Byline: Lindsey Nair, The Ronaoke Times

Summary: During his sentencing Wednesday, former Lynchburg mayor Carl Hutcherson Jr. glanced down at a message scrawled across his notebook.

"God will provide for me and for you," it said. And in the end, God -- or at least a federal judge -- did provide. Hutcherson, who faced between three and four years in prison for seven felony fraud convictions, must instead serve 36 months of probation, perform 200 hours of community service and pay about $15,000 in fines and restitution.

When U.S. District Judge James Turk announced his decision, spectators in the packed courtroom broke into applause, then filed to the front to hug the tearful defendant.

"We prosecute the case and the judge judges the case, so we respect his judgment," said prosecutor Tom Bondurant. However, within hours of the sentencing, Bondurant had filed a notice of appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Hutcherson, 62, was serving as mayor, ministering at Trinity United Methodist Church and running Hutcherson Funeral Service in Lynchburg when he was indicted in December.

In early May, a jury found him guilty of two counts of Social Security fraud, two counts of mail fraud, bank fraud, making false statements to an FBI agent and obstructing justice.

During the five-day trial, jurors heard evidence that Hutcherson had stolen money from two Social Security recipients for whom he was handling financial affairs.

Prosecutors also said Hutcherson had solicited a $32,500 donation from Jerry Falwell Ministries for his charity, Trinity New Life Community Development Corp., then took all but $1,000 to pay back taxes.

When investigators homed in on him, Hutcherson created a fake board of directors for the charity and false meeting minutes indicating that the board had approved a personal loan to him.

On Wednesday, defense attorneys John Fishwick Jr. and John Lichtenstein argued that their client has already lost enough. He has stepped down as mayor and minister and enrolled in a residential treatment program at Elim Home, which is run by Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, Fishwick said.

Daryl Pitts, a counseling pastor at Elim Home, testified that Hutcherson has made substantial progress addressing depression and past alcohol problems.

Pitts said he believes Hutcherson can complete the program and possibly become a leader to others.

"I believe that Mr. Hutcherson is a man of ethics and a man of morals who made some really bad decisions," Pitts said. Fishwick and Hutcherson also said their client has such poor health that prison would be dangerous for him. He has suffered two heart attacks, has had several open heart surgeries and is on a plethora of medications, they said.

Several supporters testified on Hutcherson's behalf Wednesday, including Lynchburg city attorney Walter Erwin.

Erwin, who has known Hutcherson 26 years, said he was a voice of moderation on council who was "committed to building bridges rather than burning them."

"When it comes time to judge a person," he said, "we ought to look at their entire life, at the good things they've done for the community as well as the bad."

Donna McDaniel, a lay leader at Trinity United Methodist Church, said she believes Hutcherson has repented and is entitled to redemption.

"We have forgiven him," she said, choking back tears. "Why can't you?"

Fishwick read from a thick stack of letters sent in support of Hutcherson, including one written by Elim Home Director David Horsley and endorsed by Falwell.

"I hope you will consider as time served the public humiliation and pain that Carl Hutcherson has endured as every detail of his private life has been made public over the last year or so," Horsley wrote.

But Bondurant argued that Hutcherson's misdeeds weren't accidents -- they represented a pattern of conduct. He reminded Turk that other Social Security recipients had lost money under Hutcherson's care.

The prosecutor said Hutcherson's crimes were far worse than that of a routine drug dealer because he had violated a position of public trust. To let him off easy, Bondurant said, would send the message that "if you're mayor, maybe you don't go to jail because you're somebody."

Bondurant added that Hutcherson has had heart disease for years and that did not stop him from working two jobs, serving on city council or stealing money and spending it on his mistress.

"I don't think he's too sick to do time," Bondurant said.

Hutcherson read from a prepared statement before he was sentenced.

"I let my city down, I let my church down and I let my family down, but most of all I let God down," he said.

"I am doing my utmost to reclaim those relationships," he added.

Turk said Hutcherson has a history of honorable public service and could be a productive member of society again. He also pointed to the defendant's model behavior on pre-trial release and said he believes his sentence will send a strong message. In addition to probation, community service and fines, Hutcherson must spend six months on house arrest and finish the program at Elim Home.

Also, according to Faye Lemon, director of enforcement for the Virginia Department of Health Professions, Hutcherson's funeral director's license will likely be suspended or revoked because of his convictions. If it is revoked, he may not reapply for at least three years, she said.

Hutcherson's wife, Glodelia Hutcherson, said she was pleased with the sentence and will continue to support her husband. "Sometimes when you are put to a test," she said, "it shows just how strong you are."

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