A few months ago I shared a blog post about a hiker that I had met in New Hampshire whose trail name was Bismarck. Bismarck was a friendly hiker with a big smile and outgoing personality. To my surprise a national news story broke several months after I had completed my hike and returned to Ohio. Bismarck was not from North Dakota but a resident of Milwaukee.
His real name was James T. Hammes and he had been on the run from the FBI for six years. He was wanted by authorities on suspicion of embezzlement … to the tune of $8 million dollars from a Cincinnati-based Pepsi bottler. A fellow thru-hiker recognized Bismarck as Hammes on a rerun of the TV show American Greed. Bismarck was arrested in Virginia in May during the annual Trail Days Festival held in the small community of Damascus.
James Hammes, 53, pleaded guilty in court to a wire fraud count and agreed to pay back money embezzled in an $8.7 million case. By pleading guilty to the embezzlement the authorities agreed to drop 74 other counts of wire fraud and money laundering against him. Under this agreement Hammes will explain what happened to the millions diverted from his employer in an operation that may have begun17 years ago.
After asking Hammes a series of questions, U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott accepted his guilty plea. She asked him if he was pleading guilty because he is, “in fact, guilty.” James T Hammons replied, “Yes, I am,” Dlott said she would sentence him only after reviewing results of a presentencing investigation which could take several months. The judge warned Hammes that the court could still impose the maximum sentence of twenty years, despite his deal with the government. He said he understood.
According to a ABC news story, “Hammes’ hair was long, but his beard was trimmed neatly Friday when he was led into the courtroom, hands and legs shackled and wearing an orange-and-white jail jumpsuit. He told Dlott during questioning that he was taking medication for depression.”
The AT certainly lends itself to disappearing. With a new trail name, a huge bushy beard, new traveling companions all the time, and constantly being on the move, true identity can be repressed for a long time. On the other hand trying to enjoy $8 million while living in a tent and eating trail food is not the best of plans. I will keep my ears to the ground and my eyes peeled for the final decision of the judge.