VERO BEACH –Though no amount of time Ira Hatch serves in prison can compensate victims for losing millions of dollars entrusted in Coastal Escrow, the 30-year sentence handed down today starts the healing process.
Eighteen victims, two jurors and Vero Beach Police Chief Don Dappen spoke in court Wednesday urging Senior Judge James Midelis to lock Hatch away for the balance of his natural life.
They unleashed their hatred on Hatch, calling him a pathological liar, a thief, a crook and a menace. One local Realtor described Hatch’s deleterious affect on the community as a “royal screwing.”
The 50-some people present in the courtroom cheered and clapped when they heard “30 years” uttered from the bench.
Chief Dappen was the first from the gallery to speak, outlining the costs of Hatch’s crimes, both to the Vero Beach Police Department and to the community as a whole. As part of his restitution, Hatch now owes the department more than $27,000 in direct costs of taking complaints, providing victim assistance, investigating the losses, keeping a warehouse full of records and responding to media requests.
“Basically you have people who lost trust and that’s a terrible thing to happen,” Dappen said.
Dappen said he’d spoken to scores of victims who were concerned that Hatch “get what’s coming to him.”
He said Hatch had not only stolen peoples’ money, but also their “hopes and dreams.”
“No matter what you do, you can’t replace that,” Dappen said.
Midelis said he would have considered giving Hatch some leniency should the racketeering been an “isolated incident.”
“But this went on for years,” Midelis said. “You even directed your office staff to commit acts that you knew to be unlawful.”
Thirty years is the maximum the court could have handed down for the single first-degree racketeering charge to which Hatch plead no contest. He will receive credit for 978 days he has already spent in the county jail awaiting the outcome of his trial.
State statute mandates that Hatch serve 85 percent of the sentence, which amounts to about 26 years, minus time served. Should he survive, he would be 85 years old upon release.
Hatch spoke for approximately 20 minutes on his behalf. During his court address, Hatch was cross examined by prosecutor Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans about his statements.
Evans tried to clarify veiled accusations Hatch had made to off-load blame for the missing $4 million onto his employees and his former law partner Kevin Doty.
Doty also appealed to Judge Midelis to give Hatch a harsh sentence appropriate to his crimes and to the damage he’s done.
At the beginning of the hearing Defense Attorney Greg Eisenmenger argued that older sentencing guidelines from the 1990s should be used since evidence was brought into the trial of “dummy” accounts used for absconding with funds dating all the way back to May 1998.
Judge Midelis rejected that argument, since the state only charged Hatch with crimes committed between 2003 and 2007. Eisenmenger announced in court that Hatch’s sentence would be appealed on the basis of this rejection.
A public defender will be appointed to handle the appeal of the sentencing before Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals.
Prosecutors said Wednesday that, based upon the appeals court’s current caseload, it could take a year or more for an opinion, affirmation or denial to be returned.