Midstate couple gets prison time in $2M Ponzi scheme

Gary Sheldon Hutcheson apologized to his family and the victims of his $2 million Ponzi scheme at a federal court hearing Thursday that resulted in him being sentenced to serve five years in prison.

Hutcheson, 57, said his goal in life now is to rebuild relationships with his family and pay back more than $1.6 million in restitution to investors in the scheme.

“I have a knack for turning a dollar bill,” he said to the judge before being sentenced. “I will pay these people back.”

Hutcheson told the court he already has a plan to pay the restitution — an idea for an invention for prisons and jails.

But Judge Jack T. Camp called him out, saying that Hutcheson stood out among the numerous people he’s sentenced in fraud cases.

“I don’t think I’ve had any who have callously abused the trust of (family and friends),” Camp said. “You violated that trust for your own personal benefit.”

The judge sentenced Hutcheson to a prison term longer than the 41-month to 51-month recommendation based on Hutcheson’s history and circumstances of the crime.

“I don’t think a 51-month sentence reflects the seriousness of the offense, he said.

Hutcheson and Saundra McKinney Pyles, 53, pleaded guilty in August to charges related to the Ponzi scheme that scammed more than four dozen investors, including prominent Macon business owners, doctors, accountants and a retired Superior Court judge.

Hutcheson solicited the investments, telling investors 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.

Hutcheson pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud and five counts of money laundering in August. Pyles pleaded guilty to concealing a felony.

The judge sentenced Pyles to serve seven months in prison followed by seven months of home confinement. She received credit for time served since her April 28 arrest in Pueblo, Colo. Hutcheson and Pyles were apprehended by U.S. Marshals after being on the run for several months.

Together, Hutcheson and Pyles must pay investors more than $1.6 million in restitution. Both also must serve a period of supervised release, enter mental health, drug and alcohol treatment programs. They are under restrictions when trying to obtain new lines of credit.

Reza Sedghi, Pyles’ lawyer, said Pyles has arranged to work on a ranch in Montana.

Pyles also apologized at the hearing.

“The shame I feel is beyond words,” she said to the judge, sobbing.

Four of Pyles’ siblings attended the hearing.

Her sister Joy McKinney said Thursday was a bittersweet day. It was a relief to see the end of the court proceedings, but her family buried her father a year ago to the day.

Both of the siblings’ parents died while Pyles and Hutcheson were on the run, she said.

“This has been tough,” McKinney said.

Bryant Pyles, Saundra Pyles’ ex-husband, and Don Hutcheson, Gary Hutcheson's brother, spoke at the hearing and asked the judge to impose the maximum sentences allowable by law.

Bryant Pyles and Don Hutcheson recounted how they learned about the affair between Hutcheson and Pyles and about the Ponzi scheme.

Bryant Pyles, his brother and his son were investors in the scam. Bryant Pyles alone invested $320,000.

At some point, the family also learned about an alleged murder plot in which Hutcheson and Pyles sought to kill Hutcheson’s ex-wife to collect life insurance benefits. After losing money in the Ponzi scheme, they saw the plot as their only option, Bryant Pyles said.

Prosecutor David Stephens said there wasn’t enough evidence to support charges stemming from the murder plot.

Bryant Pyles requested on behalf of his family that the judge show no mercy.

“If they had not been caught, they would still be on the run today,” he said.

Don Hutcheson, Gary Hutcheson’s brother, said he was proud of his brother’s financial success after he gained wealth by selling a patent and his seemingly model family.

He invested $28,000 in his brother’s hedge fund not knowing that Hutcheson had lost everything in the stock market.

After learning about the Ponzi scheme, Don Hutcheson said he tried to convince his brother to turn himself in to the authorities.

But he refused.

Don Hutcheson urged the judge to punish his brother, saying he believes he’ll return to a life of crime upon release.

“Gary Hutcheson is a liar, and a cheat and a thief,” he said.

Bryant Pyles said he would have liked to see his ex-wife ordered to serve more prison time.

“I still feel like she was right there with him,” he said. “She could have stopped it.”

Bryant Pyles said it’s a relief that the court process is over.

“It seems like we’ve got some closure finally,” he said.

Although the couple was sentenced to pay restitution, Bryant Pyles said he’s not expecting to see much money.

“It’s been a big hit,” Bryant Pyles said of losing his investment in harsh economic times. “It couldn’t have come at a harder time.”

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