Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ex-Foothills Regional Airport (KMRN) manager Nelson sentenced to 3 years

ASHEVILLE — Former Foothills Regional Airport Manager Alex Nelson will spend three years in jail for conspiracy, embezzlement and money laundering.

But he walked out of the federal courthouse in Asheville on Tuesday. He will be able to self-report to prison.

Kurt Meyers, the federal prosecutor in the case, said when someone is allowed to self-report to prison it generally happens within two to three months of sentencing. He said Nelson will get a letter from the Federal Bureau of Prisons about reporting to prison.

Nelson is one of three airport officials who have pleaded guilty in wrongdoing at the airport. Brad Adkins, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and embezzlement on the same day — Sept. 24, 2012 — as Nelson was scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. However, a sealed motion to continue his sentencing was granted on Monday, according to federal court records. So far, a rescheduled date for Adkins’ sentencing has not been set.

Nelson was facing a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison. In addition to three years and one month — 37 months — in prison, Nelson will have three years of supervised release after he gets out, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Reidinger decided. Nelson also will pay $179,781.51 in restitution, with $129,781.51 going to the airport and $50,000 going to the N.C. League of Municipalities, Reidinger said.

Reidinger said a sentence should be deterrence from criminal conduct, not just for the defendant but for others as well. He said the taxpayers’ trust was abused and a substantial part of it was done knowingly.

Nelsons’s attorney Jack Stewart told the judge the case has taken a terrible toll on Nelson. He said Nelson got in way over his head and that corruption was happening at the airport before he took the job there and he thought that was the way business was done.

“I think Alex Nelson is a good man and I think he’s contrite,” Stewart said.

Stewart said Nelson is not a sophisticated businessman.

Meyers said there is no evidence the wrongdoing was going on at the airport before Nelson started working there. He called Nelson’s theft a really high degree of deception.

Meyers said the theft wasn’t just a one-way scheme or just one loophole.

A federal affidavit said Nelson and Adkins used side business accounts to deposit airport checks made out to a bogus company. One example in the affidavit is from June 2009 to September 2011, around 21 checks were deposited into Adkins’ business accounts at Community One Bank or converted into cash.

Of the checks totaling $49,000 deposited into the “Foothills Maintenance” account, $26,000 was withdrawn as cash and $22,000 was made payable to a conspirator, the affidavit says. The affidavit doesn’t name the conspirator.

The affidavit also said Nelson and Adkins used other conspirators to defraud the airport authority by awarding numerous contracts to conspirators at grossly inflated prices for work completed or for no work at all. Federal documents said Nelson also used the airport credit card for personal use.

Meyers told the judge the theft that was going on at the airport is very difficult to catch.

“In this country, we take corruption very seriously,” Meyers said.

Nelson was allowed to speak during the hearing and said he was said he lacked experience and technical expertise to do the job when he was hired. He said he told former airport board Chair Randy Hullette that he had no background in finance when Hullette asked him to take the job. Nelson has said he did not receive financial reports like he was supposed to, saying the bookkeeper never got them to him.

Nelson said he was sorry and he accepted responsibility for what happened on his watch.

Reidinger said, however, that Nelson was treading awfully close to denying his part in the crimes that occurred at the airport.

Reidinger said theft has to be punished effectively.

“Theft of this nature cannot be tolerated,” Reidinger said.

Nelson has the right to appeal his sentence within 14 days, Reidinger told him.

The federal government revoked the bond of Brad Adkins and he has been held at the McDowell County jail. Adkins faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Source:   http://www.morganton.com

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