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Former Tamarack suitor gets 17 years in prison

The man who once tried to buy Idaho’s cash-strapped Tamarack Resort was ordered July 31 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 the three-hour sentencing hearing July 31, 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 July 31 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 the investors will recoup any of their lost money.

The U.S. Department of Labor, whose investigators gathered information against Hutcheson after investors complained about their missing money 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” people like Judy Thompson and other investors believed he had 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 to them how he could still recover their cash.

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 in their accounts 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 a prison term of just six years.

Several members of Hutcheson’s family were in the court gallery, including his wife, Annette Hutcheson, his father-in-law, Brad Mason, and his father. In a brief interview, Annette Hutcheson said she disagreed with the process and said it was an injustice.

About The Associated Press