State rests in Hatch case, defense works to get charges dropped

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Prosecutors rested their case Thursday morning in the theft trial of Ira Hatch and spent the rest of the day haggling with the defense about the 46 charges stacked against the disbarred attorney.

Defense attorney Gregory Eisenmenger made four motions to dismiss the whole case, all of which were denied by Senior Judge James Midelis. One defense motion for dropping Count 3 of operating as an unlicensed money transmitter was dropped.

Another motion to drastically reduce the number of charges is still pending and it won’t be resolved until the defense rests its case by the middle or end of next week.

“I’ll reserve ruling on this until you present your case, counsel,” said Senior Judge James Midelis.

Hatch, the former owner of Coastal Escrow Services, Coastal Title Services and principal of the law firm Hatch and Doty P.A., was arrested on Jan. 1, 2008 and is now facing 45 counts of grand theft, racketeering and money laundering.

Eisenmenger claimed that instead of being separated into more than 40 different charges of first, second and third-degree grand theft, the charges against Hatch should be lumped into one first-degree grand theft charge of more than $100,000.

The state grouped the theft charges into bundles of victims who were related in some way, mostly depositors who had worked with the same Realtor or property management company. The total amount lost by that subset of depositors was formed into a separate charge.

As a hypothetical example, renters A, B, C, D and E, all clients of Property Manager 1, might have lost a total of 20,000. Real estate purchasers F, G and H, all clients of Realtor 2, might have lost down payments totaling $110,000. Those would be listed as separate grand theft charges. The argument is that those alleged thefts resulted from the same taking, or the same conduct.

Since prosecutors have not been able to isolate and identify exactly which date the money of certain depositors went out of the Coastal Escrow account due to commingling of funds, Eisenmenger said the monies should all be considered one theft charge, a charge of an organized effort to defraud.

“One reason I fought so long and hard in this case to get a Statement of Particulars is because there’s no evidence of the taking,” Eisenmenger said. “What we have is a single crime and the highest level of that crime.”

Eisenmenger claims this strategy by the prosecution could potentially subject his client to punishment multiple times for the same act of transferring money out of Coastal Escrow Services for his own purposes.

“The state is trying to get cute so they can get multiple grand thefts out of this,” Eisenmenger said.

Assistant State Attorney Ryan Butler disagreed with Eisenmenger’s premise.

“We put on 100-plus victims who said ‘he took my money’ and I understand that the defense would have preferred that we put those all in one charge,” Butler said. “But as long as each victim has an individual loss there’s an individual taking every time you transfer money from the escrow account to the law firm.”

“You try to tell these victims that they didn’t lose money and they will tell you another story,” Butler said.

Each first degree grand theft charge of this magnitude carries a potential 30-year sentence in prison.

Since the beginning, Eisenmenger has railed against the state’s total of $4 million, the amount that was purportedly not returned to depositors after Coastal Escrow Services closed its doors on Sept. 4, 2007.

“They’re trying to fill a $4 million hole with $2.5 million worth of evidence, $2.58 million is their best number in the light most favorable to the state — period,” Eisenmenger said.

Butler argued that at the beginning of the time period in question — January 2004 through September 2007 — that the Coastal Escrow accounts were already $1.9 million in the red from previous transfers out to cover Hatch’s personal and business expenses. Eisenmenger claims this has not been proven.

The trial continues at 9 a.m. Friday with another half-day of arguments about information to be provided to the jury about the charges and other legal matters to be discussed out of the presence of the jury. The defense is expected to begin its case on Tuesday after the Monday government holiday for Independence Day.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment