One of the thru-hikers I met during my 2014 adventure on the Appalachian Trail was Bismarck. I met him in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and then again at The Cabin, a hostel in Maine. Little did I know at the time that Bismarck was James Hammes, a wanted man for the embezzlement of millions of dollars from a Pepsi-Cola bottling company in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In reality, Bismarck had been on the run from the FBI for 6 years. He had used the Appalachian Trail as his hide-out and his Trail Name as his cover. He grew the typical thru-hiker beard and blended into the hiking community. He was friendly and helpful along the trail allowing him to be well hidden. Then one day a 2014 thru-hiker, while watching a re-run of the series American Greed, recognized Bismarck as James Hammes. The fellow hiker notified the FBI.
Bismarck was arrested by federal agents in May of 2015 at Trail Days, a major thru-hiker festival held in Damascus, Virginia each year. James Hammes, 54, formerly of Lexington, Kentucky, pleaded guilty last October to one count of wire fraud. Officials said he agreed to pay nearly $7.7 million in restitution: $6.7 million to G & J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, Inc. and $1 million to Cincinnati Insurance Company.
Recently US District Judge, Susan Dlott sentenced James Hammes to eight (8) years in prison. Her decision also included the mandate that Hammes continue to make financial restitution for his embezzlement and added on a three year probation after his release. The judge substantiated her decision by reviewing the high amount of money involved in Hammes’ misappropriation of funds, his long-term flight to avoid prosecution, and the collateral damage to his family. Hammes’ attorney indicated an appeal will be made.
James T. Hammes was employed as a controller for the Cincinnati-based bottling company. He was responsible for all financial accounting and internal controls for his division, including the oversight of accounts payable to vendors for services provided to the company’s division. The FBI said Hammes created a sham vendor account, wrote checks to it, then moved the deposits into his own accounts. He was questioned by the company about some unusual financial transactions in February 2009, at which time he fled and began his six-year hiking along the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.
Zenaida Lockard, an assistant public defender in Cincinnati representing Hammes, and Federal Public Defender Deborah L. Williams submitted a statement seeking a lighter sentence. The request stated, “He [Hammes] sought refuge in the foothills and mountains of the Trail, in an attempt to sort through a sordid past…. Each day spent out in Mother Nature shed light on Jim’s dark past; and as he began to understand the flaws of his character, he moved one step closer to personal redemption.”
The Appalachian Trail is indeed a peaceful place and the solitude of the hike brings great introspection, but I think it is a rather weak argument in a court of law. On the other hand, I sure hope it is true. Even though Bismarck will be incarcerated for eight years, I pray that his personal redemption continues to lead to a true spiritual transformation.
Quote from Hammes’ legal counsel: http://www.wlwt.com/news/lawyers-appalachian-trail-was-clients-road-to-redemption/39883150
Photo of Bismack with beard http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150521/NEWS/150529846
Photo of Hemmes: http://www.atlanticbb.net/news/read/category/us/article/the_associated_press-feds_seek_7year_term_for_appalachian_trailhiking_f-ap