Federal prosecutors are seeking a nearly 22-year sentence against Atlanta lawyer Nathan Hardwick IV, whose sentencing hearing for his embezzlement conviction has been pushed to next month to give his defense team more time to prepare.
After 12 days of witness testimony, a federal jury in October convicted Hardwick of embezzling $26 million from his now-bankrupt residential real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.
The sentencing hearing, which had been continued from Dec. 19 to Jan. 10, is now set for Feb. 11 before Judge Eleanor Ross of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. It is shaping up to be as hard-fought as the three-week trial. In the past week, the parties have exchanged sharply worded sentencing memos.
Hardwick’s lawyers said in their Jan. 3 memo that Hardwick, 53, should receive only an eight-year sentence. But the government said the next day that an almost 22-year sentence—the maximum under federal guidelines—is warranted.
“Hardwick is a manipulative, deceptive defendant who commits fraud without remorse or regard for his victims. He has no respect for the law and does not believe the rules apply to him,” the government said.
‘Lied, Cheated and Stole’
After nine hours of deliberation, 12 jurors rejected Hardwick’s defense that the millions of dollars he siphoned out of the firm’s escrow and bank accounts to spend on private jets, casinos and women were funds he thought were due to him as the majority owner. They unanimously convicted him on all 21 counts of wire fraud, plus separate counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and making false statements to federally insured banks.
Hardwick should receive a stiff, 262-month sentence, said federal prosecutors J. Russell Phillips and Lynsey Barron in their sentencing memo, because the lawyer stole such a large sum—more than $21 million—from Morris Hardwick’s bank accounts, including its client trust accounts.
He also perjured himself in his trial testimony and, through his “self-dealing,” caused the firm to “implode,” putting about 800 people out of work, the prosecutors said. Hardwick owned 55 percent of Morris Hardwick, which had been one of the nation’s largest residential real estate closing and foreclosure firms before its 2015 bankruptcy.
Besides sentencing enhancements for the large amount of money taken and alleged perjury, the government also is seeking enhancements for the number of victims, Hardwick’s role as leader of a criminal activity, abuse of a position of trust and the nature and seriousness of the offenses.
“Hardwick—a lawyer with many years of experience—lied, cheated and stole millions of dollars from his law firm’s bank accounts, including accounts established to safeguard client money. His crimes damaged the lives of more than 800 people and potentially could have crippled the residential title insurance industry in the state of Georgia,” the government said.
Hardwick’s defense lawyers, Ed Garland, Kristen Novay and Robin Loeb of Garland, Samuel & Loeb, dispute how much money Hardwick received from the firm, arguing that the government has “failed to prove an appropriate loss amount for sentencing.”
In their sentencing memo, the defense said the government’s $21.3 million figure appeared to represent the funds that Morris Hardwick’s main title insurer, Fidelity National Title, paid into the firm after the account shortfalls were discovered. That amount “is meaningless if it is supposed to represent a loss that was the fault of Mr. Hardwick,” they added.
Hardwick’s lawyers said in their extension request that they are still waiting for transcripts of trial testimony from several key witnesses that they need to aid in calculating the loss amount. That will be a key issue at the sentencing hearing, they said, because the size of the loss will be the main factor used to enhance the sentence.
The government did not oppose Hardwick’s extension request, which the judge granted Monday.
Perjury at Trial?
In another dispute, the government contends that Hardwick perjured himself at trial by blaming Asha Maurya, his indicted co-conspirator, for the theft of the missing millions. Maurya was the controller for Morris Hardwick’s closing operation, which Hardwick ran, during the charged 3.5-year embezzlement period.
Maurya agreed to cooperate with the government before the trial and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, but the prosecutors did not call her to testify.
She is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 12, now the day following Hardwick’s own hearing.
The prosecutors said in their memo that Hardwick “categorically denied any and all wrongdoing and tried to place all of the blame on his co-conspirator who had already pled guilty.” They added, “Hardwick made a big show of looking directly at the jury and saying that he had no intent to defraud anyone.”
The defense lawyers said in their extension request that they are waiting for a transcript of Hardwick’s trial testimony to contest the government’s proposed two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice because of the alleged perjury.
The defense team downplayed Hardwick’s wrongdoing.
“Mr. Hardwick certainly failed at managing his own expenses, keeping up with his personal expenditure and distributions and managing the firm financially. And clearly, he also placed trust in the wrong controller, Ms. Maurya,” his lawyers said in the sentencing memo “The jury decided that those failures included withdrawing millions from co-mingled accounts for personal benefit that crossed the line between aggressive business marketing practices and crime.”