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HIGHLAND MAN GETS WORK RELEASE, PROBATION FOR LAND-INVESTMENT FRAUD

SHARE HIGHLAND MAN GETS WORK RELEASE, PROBATION FOR LAND-INVESTMENT FRAUD

A Highland man who bilked more than $200,000 from investors with fraudulent land deals has 90 days to get a job and establish a work schedule before reporting to the Utah County Jail.

James C. Hardie, 47, was sentenced Tuesday by 4th District Judge Lynn W. Davis to concurrent sentences of up to five years in prison on five third-degree felony counts of theft by deception. However, Davis suspended the prison time, fined Hardie $1,800 and placed him on 36 months' probation. As a condition of probation, Hardie must spend one year in jail with work release.Hardie was originally charged with 31 felonies for taking money for land deals from investors from throughout the Western United States. Hardie told most investors that the money would be used to purchase land around the Mount Timpanogos LDS Temple in American Fork. Utah County investigators discovered that Hardie spent the money on personal expenses.

Terms of Hardie's plea bargain require him to pay full restitution. Adult Probation and Parole says Hardie owes investors about $219,000. Craig Snyder, Hardie's attorney, said his client has already paid back some of the stolen money by selling his home and liquidating his assets. He presented a check to the court Tuesday for $5,000.

Davis said Hardie conducted a scam of lies and misrepresentations and is guilty of repetitive criminal conduct. He said some victims lost homes and life savings, while others filed for bankruptcy and now have poor credit ratings.

"There have been some victims who have just been ruined by this," Davis said.

Most of the victims, however, want their money back and realize it will take longer if Hardie goes to prison, Davis said. The judge said justice and the victims are best served by a balanced punishment and restitution plan. He ordered Hardie to spend a year in jail but believes he should be allowed work release to earn money for restitution.

Utah County Deputy Attorney Jim Taylor agreed that jail time with work release is a proper sentence. But Taylor said he's concerned that Hardie will again use his ability to sell nonexistent items as a means of generating restitution. Taylor asked Davis to make Hardie's sentences run consecutively so a 25-year prison term would be hanging over his head as incentive to meet his probation terms.

"I don't want him selling air again," Taylor said. "I don't want him creating any new victims."

Davis refused to impose consecutive sentences. To ensure that Hardie is earning money, Davis also gave Hardie the 90 days to get a job and establish a work schedule. The judge scheduled a review hearing for May 21, at which time he will determine whether Hardie is meeting his restitution obligation and whether his work schedule is compatible with the jail's work-release program.