VERO BEACH – Neither the State Attorney’s Office nor defense counsel could agree on much during the nearly two-month long trial of former Vero Beach attorney Ira Hatch.
But in the end, they were able to agree on one thing – the plea deal reached Monday was in the best interest of both Hatch and the public. “I think this is a wise decision,” Hatch’s defense attorney, Gregory Eisenmenger said of the plea deal. He explained that the plea deal would save taxpayers the expense of what he called a “contentious” appeal.
Hatch entered a plea of no contest to one charge of racketeering as the six-member jury continued well into its second day of deliberations Monday afternoon.
“The best thing by far is that (Ira Hatch) still faces a life sentence and there will be no appeal,” Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler said, later adding, “The plea also resolves all charges in all trials.”
Hatch had been facing a second trial on several other charges related to the theft of monies from his Coastal Escrow Services clients.
Senior Judge James Midelis asked prosecutors from the State Attorney’s Office if it was their belief that the plea deal would be in the state’s best interest.
“We agree that it is, your honor,” Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said.
He told the judge that they had identified “key” victims in the case and reached out to them pertaining to the plea deal.
Most of the contacted victims agreed to the plea deal, Evans told the judge, though some did not.
“The taxpayers saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation costs by (Hatch’s) plea today,” Butler said outside the courtroom.
Eisenmenger said that the plea is equivalent to the one crime he believed prosecutors had adequately proven – an organized scheme to defraud.
Racketeering and organized scheme to defraud are the same degree of crime, Eisenmenger said, which made it less important for the label of the charge.
Hatch entered an open plea deal, which means that Senior Judge James Midelis will be the one to determine Hatch’s sentence.
At most, Hatch could serve 30 years in prison or pay a $12 million fine. Hatch is entitled to nearly three years of credit for time spent in the county jail awaiting trial.
Butler said Judge Midelis could sentence Hatch to serve as little as 46 months in prison – not accounting for the time already served in jail.
If sentenced to prison, Hatch would have to serve at least 85 percent of that sentence before being released.
Eisenmenger said that he will be making a recommendation to Judge Midelis at sentencing. Though he would not say what his recommendation would be, it is expected to be less than the maximum allowed.
Hatch will also be required to make restitution to his victims – how much has not yet been determined, though the State Attorney’s Office claims Hatch stole approximately $4 million from his Coastal Escrow Services clients.
It is unclear how Hatch will be able to make restitution as he has claimed he is indigent and could not afford even his own counsel.
A hearing will be held to determine how restitution — if it is possible — would be handled.
“Chances are, they’re not going to get their money anyway,” Butler said of Hatch’s victims.