Macon couple in $2 million Ponzi scheme plead guilty

NEWNAN — A Macon couple accused of swindling more than $2 million from investors in a Ponzi scheme pleaded guilty in federal court Monday.

Gary Sheldon Hutcheson, 57, pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud and five counts of money laundering. He faces the prospect of decades in prison.

Saundra McKinney Pyles, 53, pleaded guilty to “misprision,” meaning that she concealed a felony. Her punishment will be far less.

Dressed in an orange Jones County jail shirt and pants, Hutcheson entered the courtroom in handcuffs and shackles. Pyles, also handcuffed and shackled, wore a similar outfit from the Crisp County jail.

A group of five women — friends and family of the couple — sat on a front row watching the proceedings. Some of them held hands during the session.

Addressing the judge, Hutcheson said he never planned to steal from his investors.

“I didn’t develop a scheme,” he said. “I’ve made some horrible mistakes.”

Hutcheson solicited investments from about four dozen people beginning in May 2006, telling them he would put the money in a hedge fund called Georgia Ionics Fund LLC, according to court records.

Authorities said Hutcheson invested just $780,000 of investors’ money and pocketed more than $1.3 million.

Most of the $780,000 was lost in the stock market.

Though Hutcheson changed his plea to guilty in accordance with a plea bargain, the agreement doesn’t include a sentencing recommendation, prosecutor David C. Stephens said. Sentencing is scheduled for November.

The judge will use sentencing guidelines outlined in a report prepared by a probation officer.

Hutcheson faces a maximum sentence of up to a $250,000 fine and 20 years in prison for mail fraud and a fine of up to $500,000 and 20 years in prison for money laundering, Stephens said.

Also, he may be ordered to pay restitution of up to $1.6 million, Stephens said.

Hutcheson’s public defender, Brian Jarrard, declined to comment.

At the end of Monday’s session, Hutcheson glanced at the gathering of family and friends and nodded his head at them as court personnel led him out of the courtroom.

The plea agreement for Pyles stipulates that she will be sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home confinement.

The five counts of mail fraud and five counts of money laundering pending against her will be dismissed when she is sentenced, Stephens said.

Pyles’ attorney, Reza Sedghi, said Pyles will receive credit for time served and should be out of prison by the time she’s sentenced.

He said he hopes she’ll be able to move on with her life.

“It’s been our position that she’s basically been a victim in this case,” Sedghi said.

Pyles has suffered financial loss and has lost her family, he said.

Stephens said Pyles either knew or “was willfully blind” to Hutcheson’s fraudulent actions when the couple left Middle Georgia and rented a house in Colorado under an assumed name.

He said Hutcheson and Pyles refused to divulge details of their location to family and friends.

The case was moved to Newnan because federal judges in the Middle District of Georgia disqualified themselves from the case because of familiarity with some of the victims.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was included in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.