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Eye On Boise

Would-be Tamarack Resort buyer gets 17+ years in prison for fraud

The Idaho man who once tried to take control of the cash-strapped Tamarack Resort has been ordered to spend more than 17 years in prison for raiding other people's pension funds to help finance the deal, the AP reports. The sentence was handed down today in federal court for Matthew Hutcheson, who starting in 2010 went public with his intentions to buy the struggling ski resort outside Donnelly, but the deal never materialized. In April, the Eagle man was convicted of 17 counts of wire fraud as part of a scheme to steal $5 million from pension funds he was trusted to oversee. He also was ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution.

Federal prosecutors say he used some of the money to enrich himself and another portion to buy a stake in Tamarack's golf course. The judge ordered Hutcheson to begin serving his prison term immediately. You can read the U.S. Attorney's full announcement here about the case.

Wendy Olson, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said, "Mr. Hutcheson placed his own personal interests and greed above the clients’ whose retirement interests he pledged to safeguard. This office will continue to take pension fraud very seriously and hold accountable those who seek personal gain from others’ hard work through fraud and deceit.  I commend the federal law enforcement officers who conducted the thorough investigation and Assistant United States Attorney Ray Patricco for his outstanding prosecution of this case.”

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi said, “He funded a life of luxury at the expense of hundreds of people who were just trying to save for retirement.  This case is indicative of our close and continued partnership with fellow federal agencies to vigorously pursue those who abuse their positions of trust and commit crimes against employee benefit plan participants.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller, who reports that at the close of the sentencing hearing, Hutcheson was stripped of his necktie and tan suit jacket and led away in handcuffs.

Former Tamarack suitor gets 17 years in prison
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The man who once tried to buy Idaho's cash-strapped Tamarack Resort was ordered Wednesday to immediately begin serving 17 years in prison for raiding pension funds to help finance the deal.

Matthew Hutcheson, a former trustee who oversaw pension funds for small businesses, was convicted in April on 17 counts of wire fraud as part of a scheme to steal $5 million from pension funds to enrich himself, purchase luxury cars and buy Tamarack, a struggling ski resort 90 miles north of Boise.

During Wednesday's three-hour sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge W. Fremming Nielsen rejected Hutcheson's request to be allowed to turn himself in to prison later, concluding that letting him remain free for even a short time longer could prompt the 41-year-old father of four to "do something that would not be wise."

"You're too smart, you're too devious. You're going to have to serve your time, you might as well start now," Nielsen said, after berating Hutcheson for violating the trust of hundreds of retirement investors whose money he once oversaw. "You were deceitful to them, you ignored them. You gave misinformation ... As a trustee, you blew it."

Stripped of his necktie and tan suit jacket as the hearing concluded, Hutcheson was led away in handcuffs by court bailiffs.

Prosecutors say Hutcheson stole more than $2 million from one pension fund he oversaw, using that money to buy luxury cars for himself and family members as well as to pay personal debts and remodel his home in Eagle, a community west of Boise. They also say he took $3.3 million from another pension fund, using it to buy the mortgage to Tamarack's golf course that he eventually hoped to leverage to gain control of the entire resort.

The plan ultimately failed.

In the process, however, more than 250 people lost money they had been counting on for their retirement, including Judy Thompson, a Yakima, Wash., woman who said the theft of $950,000 from her family's accounts made them Hutcheson's single-biggest victim.

She testified Wednesday that money she'd hoped to use to buy a swimming pool and help pay for her grandkids' college had simply vanished.

"He stole from our retirement dreams," said Thompson, who first met Hutcheson in 1993 when he began doing work with the retirement account of her family's audiology business. "Our lives would be so different if that meeting had never taken place."

It's unclear if investors will recoup any of their lost money.

The U.S. Department of Labor, whose investigators gathered information against Hutcheson after investors complained starting in 2011, said Hutcheson sought to live a life of luxury at the expense of hard-working people.

"The defendant's despicable conduct jeopardized the financial security of workers," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi, in a statement.

Hutcheson spoke for about a half hour, telling Nielsen he was "horrified" Judy Thompson and other investors believed he'd absconded with their money. Though he conceded he may have made "judgment errors," he insisted he was capable of recouping investors' losses — and suggested court-ordered no-contact provisions had prevented him from meeting with victims, to explain how he'd do it.

Sending him to prison, he told the judge, could actually impede those efforts.

Nielsen discounted Hutcheson's claims, however, saying he agreed with prosecutors: In addition to forging signatures and doctoring financial statements to make himself seem much wealthier than he really was, Hutcheson also likely falsified documents in December 2012 to make it seem like investors had valuable assets that could eventually be liquidated.

It "doesn't pass the smell test," Nielsen told Hutcheson, before rejecting a request by his lawyer, Nampa defender Ryan P. Henson, to require just six years in prison.

Hutcheson's family was in the court gallery, including his wife, Annette Hutcheson, his father-in-law, Brad Mason, and his father. In a brief interview, Annette Hutcheson called Wednesday's outcome an injustice.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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