Accountant Who Hid on Appalachian Trail Jailed for Embezzling Millions from Pepsi Bottler


A former controller who embezzled $8.7 million from the Pepsi bottling company where he worked and then spent six years as a fugitive on the Appalachian Trail has been sentenced to eight years in prison.

James T. Hammes, 54, a former resident of Lexington, Ken., agreed Wednesday to pay nearly $7.7 million in restitution, including $6.7 million to his former employer, G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers, and $1 million to Cincinnati Insurance Company, according to a news release.

While working as a controller at the soda bottler, he made off with about $8.7 million between 1998 and February 2009 by setting up fictitious vendor accounts and manipulating the monthly accounting reports. Hammes allegedly used a miscellaneous account where he could charge off fraudulent checks and manipulated the legitimate accounts to offset the amounts in the miscellaneous account.

Hammes then used the stolen money for investing and trading, which in turn generated 1099 forms for the Internal Revenue Service. He sent estimated tax payments to the IRS amounting to at least $2.7 million with the help of the funds he stole from the Pepsi bottler. Nevertheless, he still managed to miss filing his tax returns for several years.

When his company and FBI agents questioned Hammes in February 2009 about the suspicious checks he had generated, he ran away to the Appalachian Trail, where he spent most of six years hiking and living under someone else’s name. He also used the nickname “Bismarck,” according to Reuters. During that time, the authorities filed federal criminal charges against him. A fellow hiker saw his story on TV and tipped off law enforcement. Hammes was arrested in May 2015 at an inn where he was staying in Virginia.

U.S. District Judge Susan J. Dlott sentenced him to 96 months in prison on Wednesday.

“Hammes embezzled a lot of money over a long period of time,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Benjamin C. Glassman said in a statement. “As the district court recognized, his scheme was sophisticated; he abused the trust that his employer had placed in him, and sheer greed motivated him. Hammes followed up his crime by coldly abandoning his family without explanation or warning and running from the law for six years under someone else’s name. But no one can run from justice forever, and today his lies were punished. Hammes more than earned every minute of the term of imprisonment that the district court imposed today.”

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