Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Third person pleads guilty in Foothills Regional Airport (KMRN) embezzlement scheme

ASHEVILLE, NC — Former Foothills Regional Airport Board Chairman and member Randy Hullette pleaded guilty to embezzlement and witness tampering Wednesday.

He was released on a $25,000 bond and ordered to have no contact, including e-mails or sending a message by someone else, with former airport manager Alex Nelson, as well as a former employee of Hullette’s referred to as “Mr. F” in the federal government’s bill of information.

Hullette also has to give a DNA sample, turn over his passport if he has one, get or keep a job and only travel in western North Carolina, Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell said. Hullette also can’t have guns, alcohol or controlled substances and has to submit to a drug test if requested. If he violates any of the conditions of his release, Hullette would have an additional year tacked onto any sentence he may receive, the judge told him. He also faces a forfeiture fine, the judge said.

Hullette was not sentenced on Wednesday. Federal officials say federal probation agents have to do their own investigation before sentencing would occur.

The embezzlement charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and up to a $250,000 fine. The maximum sentence for the second charge is 20 years and up to a $250,000 fine.

During the proceedings Wednesday, Hullette, dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt, was accompanied by his attorney Sean Devereux and said little except to answer the judge with “yes sir” or “no sir.”

Hullette refused to answer questions from the Record on Wednesday.

According to a bill of information in the case, the US Attorney says Hullette carried out a scheme to embezzle and steal from the airport from May 2010 to September 2012.

The document says Hullette used his access and public authority to steal and embezzle tens of thousands of dollars in various ways from the airport. It says Hullette got Nelson to write him checks from the airport to his business, Burkemont Service Center, for invoices that were either grossly inflated, for work that was never done or for work that was completed and paid for years earlier, the bill of information says.

The bill of information says Hullette got cash from bogus airport payments for a “shell” company. It says Hullette caused an employee of his service center, who is only named with an initial in the document, to open a bank account in the name of Mobile Fleet Service. Hullette then got Nelson to write checks from the airport to the account for service it supposedly provided to the airport, the document says.

The order of acceptance of guilty plea says, “Foothills Regional Airport Authority received benefits in excess of $10,000 during the one year period beginning January 1, 2011, pursuant to a Federal program involving a grant, contract, subsidy, loan, guarantee or insurance or some other form of Federal assistance; Or that you did aid and abet others in the commission of such an offense; and that you did all such acts knowingly, intentionally, unlawfully and willfully.”

After FBI agents raided the airport on June 5, 2012, the bill of information in Hullette’s case says he started to scheme to cover up his crime. Hullette, it says, tried to persuade his employee to keep information from the FBI or give false information.

The bill of information says Hullette also gave false testimony to a federal grand jury on Sept. 20 about financial transactions, whether he received any money or tried to influence anyone’s testimony.

Nelson and former operations manager Brad Adkins pleaded guilty last September to conspiracy and embezzling, and Nelson also pleaded guilty to money laundering. The two have yet to be sentenced.

Even with the pleas of Hullette, Nelson and Adkins, what happened to two fuel trucks the airport owned but were sold has not been addressed. Airport officials say money from the sale never made it into the airport coffers. Questions surrounding timber cutting on airport property also haven’t been addressed in the plea deals.

The FBI investigation began in June 2012, when it seized records of airport customers and vendors, computer hard drives, electronic media, all bank accounts, checks, credit card bills, account information and other financial records.

The warrants obtained any logs, registry entries, saved user names, passwords and even browser history to be turned over. In addition to Hullette and his businesses, Jeffrey Rose, Grady Rose Tree Service, Jimmy “Ron” Gilbert, Gilbert Grading and Construction, Simon Roofing and Parton Lumber also were named in the initial search warrant of the airport.