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April 30, 2019 | Today's Paper | Submit News | Subscribe Today
Bellefonte man gets 17 years for $1.5 million scam
APR 30, 2019
WILLIAMSPORT — A man whose mother was among his victims in a nearly $1.5 million investment scam has been sentenced to 17 years in prison.
James E. Hocker, 49, “spread a web of lies” over nearly 10 years while engaging in a pattern of fraud and deceit, U.S Middle District Mathew W. Brann said Friday.
The judge questioned whether he could believe anything Hocker said during the more than two-hour proceeding.
Hocker solicited victims claiming he could get them 25 to 30 percent return on their funds but never invested the money.
Brann described it as a “lavish scheme” in which the money was placed in bank accounts and used for personal expenses including legal fees, spousal support, trips, prostitution, gambling and credit card bills.
Hocker provided investors with false statements on the status of their accounts and employed delaying tactics when clients sought to make a withdrawal.
A number of victims, all of whom are elderly, described in testimony or letter how the loss of their savings ruined their retirement plans.
“I never knew a man who could lie so much,” said Ira Lutz of Bellefonte who lost about $250,000.
Many of the victims were friends of Hocker, who was licensed to sell insurance but not annuities and other investment products. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alisan V. Martin called the scheme a “self-serving fraud” and said Hocker showed no mercy.
Hocker, who in October had pleaded guilty to a securities fraud charge, is required to make restitution of $1,495,782 minus any amount he already repaid.
Between July 2013 and October 2018 he returned approximately $236,000 to investors by using money others had entrusted to him.
Brann directed the restitution be prorated among individual victims before organizations and businesses are paid. Hocker when charged, expressed remorse and said he had no excuse for telling lies.
Defense attorney Leonard G. Ambrose III called his client’s behavior “inexcusable” but attributed it to mental health issues and alcohol and cocaine addiction.
Hocker has four DUI convictions in Pennsylvania and one Maryland but since May 2018 had been in a recovery program.
Ambrose urged Brann not to impose a sentence greater than what was given Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Mueller investigation in Washington.
The defense lawyer acknowledged Hocker put his victims in a “terrible, terrible situation,” but argued what the Trump aides did affected all citizens.
Hocker, who has a high school education, worked for a reputable insurance business in Bellefonte from 2001 to 2007 before going out on his own. He lived in Centre County at the time. Some of his clients followed him to James E. Hocker & Associates and beginning in 2009 he began soliciting them to invest in various products.
Hocker, whose address now is listed as Shirleysburg, Huntingdon County, will be on supervised release for three years when he completes his prison sentence.
During that time he may have no contact with any of his victims without his probation officer’s approval.
Prior to being charged criminally, Hocker was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a civil suit of running an investment scam “bears the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”
The agency accused him of converting for personal purposes between 2013 and 2017 funds from investors who he promised returns of between 10 and 30 percent.
The SEC last year obtained a default judgment because Hocker never responded to the suit.