COLUMBIA - Four years after he was sent to prison for his role in one of the state's largest bankruptcies, former HomeGold Chief Executive Ronnie Sheppard pleaded with South Carolina's Supreme Court that his 20-year prison sentence was too harsh. His punishment, Sheppard and his attorneys argued, was more than twice as long as the handful of other executives convicted in the company's multi-million-dollar downfall.
On Monday, the justices overruled Sheppard's pleas and denied his appeal for either a new trial or a sentence reduction.
In 2007, a Lexington County jury found Sheppard, 53, guilty of securities fraud, conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretenses in the 2003 collapse of HomeGold and its subsidiary, Carolina Investors.
More than 8,000 investors lost $275 million in the bankruptcy of Carolina Investors, which rocked northern South Carolina. For decades, the company had been part of the area's social fabric, cranking out returns of 8.5 percent in the good years by making loans to people with poor credit, always making sure those folks had enough collateral.
But by the late 1990s, the company was taken over by HomeGold, which used the money to make high-risk mortgage loans to people who didn't have the collateral to pay for them. It wasn't long before the operation came tumbling down, evaporating college funds and thrusting retirees into poverty.
During a November 2010 hearing, Sheppard's attorney argued his client received a much harsher sentence than the rest of the company executives who either pleaded guilty or were convicted in the case.
Former lieutenant governor and Carolina Investors Chairman Earle Morris Jr. was sentenced to more than three years in prison on 22 counts of securities fraud. Anne Owen, former Carolina Investors vice president, received a suspended sentence of 90 days with five years' probation. Her husband, former Carolina Investors President Larry Owen, was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to 22 counts of securities fraud.
Jack Sterling, former HomeGold chairman and chief executive, was sentenced to five years for securities fraud. Former HomeGold executive Karen Miller was released from prison in September after serving 15 months.
Sheppard's attorney also said the trial judge's failure to resolve an incident of inappropriate juror contact and the State Grand Jury's lack of jurisdiction over the charges on which Sheppard was convicted added up to an unfair trial for his client.
The justices were unconvinced, pointing out that Sheppard's trial attorney did not question the grand jury's jurisdiction when he got eight of 11 counts of the indictment against Sheppard dismissed. Chief Justice Jean Toal also noted that the justices could not consider Sheppard's sentence because he never challenged these issues before the trial judge.
Sheppard is being held at a prerelease prison in Columbia. Prison records show he will be eligible for parole in December.