Hatch pleads no contest to racketeering, judge to decide fate

VERO BEACH — Disgraced attorney Ira C. Hatch agreed Monday to plead no contest to a single charge of racketeering in a deal reached with the prosecution as the jury entered its second day of deliberation in his two-month long theft trial.Hatch accepted to leave sentencing to Senior Judge James Midelis, who could impose a 30-year term on the first-degree felony racketeering charge. The disbarred attorney also agreed to provide restitution to the victims in the case. How Hatch can repay the estimated $4 million taken from his former clients is unclear as he claimed he was indigent and could not afford even to pay for his own legal counsel.

In return, the state agreed to drop all the other counts Hatch is facing in this case and to not to file any additional charges. A hearing will be held to determine how restitution — if it is possible — will be handled. The defense and prosecution had considered plea offers throughout the process, but with jury deliberations entering the second day and jurors requesting to review some testimony from two local Realtors, the two sides finally struck a deal that both sides could accept.

Another term of the plea deal was that Hatch waived his right to appeal, except his right to appeal his sentencing.

When asked if he had enough time to consult with his counsel, Hatch responded in the affirmative. When asked if he was satisfied with the counsel he had received, he replied, “More than satisfied.”

The State Attorney’s Office reportedly began contacting the many victims in the case prior to the lunch break, as Florida victim’s rights encourage  such notification. The courtroom started to fill up with attorneys who happened to be at the courthouse after lunch as word began to spread that a plea deal was brewing.

“We contacted key victims,” Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said, adding that the state could not contact every single one of the hundreds of victims in the time allotted.

Midelis asked Evans if the key witnesses approved of the plea deal.

“Most did, some did not,” Evans said about the response of the key victims.

Throughout the proceedings, attorneys for both sides would not comment about the deal that was in the works.

Sentencing will be at 9 a.m. Friday, August 27. Evans said victims may send letters to the court prior to sentencing.

The jury was called back in to hear the plea.

“Ladies and gentlemen, during the last few minutes, the court accepted a plea of no contest on Count 1 of racketeering,”

Judge Midelis thanked the jury for their service after notifying them of the outcome.

“You are the catalyst that makes the system work. We would never be able to dispose of the number of cases we have unless jurors like yourself were willing to come and serve,” Midelis said.

The 63-year-old Hatch was tried on 45 felony counts of theft, racketeering and money laundering during the two-month long trial. He was arrested on Jan. 11, 2008 after he closed his firm, Coastal Escrow Services, in September 2007 and left hundreds of depositors seeking to recover millions of dollars.

The Vero Beach Police Department conducted a lengthy investigation, assisted by State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Over the six-week trial, the state called 145 witnesses and the defense called four, including the defendant’s ex-wife Marjorie Hatch. Ira Hatch did not testify on his own behalf.

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