Secretary sentenced to 7 years

A former business executive who embezzled nearly $350,000 from his employer received a seven-year prison sentence Tuesday.

Hugh P. Hibbard, 34, pleaded guilty in Richmond County Superior Court to racketeering and tax evasion. He stole the money from his employer, Taylor Toyota Enterprise, and didn't pay taxes on the stolen funds.

Mr. Hibbard came to court Tuesday with enough money to repay the Taylors with one condition, defense attorney Greg Leopard told the judge. Mr. Hibbard had to receive probation so he would be able to work and repay the family and friends who raised the money.

If that was the defense's position, District Attorney Danny Craig said he would ask for the maximum prison sentence and forgo restitution.

He could proceed with a civil RICO action against Mr. Hibbard instead, Mr. Craig said.

"I would rather be left with our own resources than have the court strike a deal with a thief," Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Hibbard's brother Phillip Hibbard said the money family and friends raised isn't a gift. They had to make sacrifices to raise the money, and they demand the same from Mr. Hibbard, his brother said.

Mr. Craig expressed disbelief that Mr. Hibbard has no money himself for restitution, considering all of the money he stole and a salary that was nearly in six figures.

Mr. Hibbard was the corporate secretary and bookkeeper for the Taylor Group. In January 2004 he started writing checks to himself, his wife and his creditors. He continued until an accountant detected some irregularities in early 2007. At least $349,748 was embezzled, Mr. Craig said.

Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. said he would not be put in the position of having to impose a probation sentence in order for the victims to get restitution.

Mr. Hibbard's brother turned over the $117,000 cash bond that had secured Mr. Hibbard's freedom pending trial. It will go toward the restitution.

Judge Brown sentenced Mr. Hibbard to seven years in prison followed by 13 years on probation. He also imposed a $50,000 fine. If the whole restitution and fine are paid in full, Judge Brown said, he would consider amending Mr. Hibbard's sentence.

Mr. Hibbard had no prior criminal conviction. He apologized to the Taylor family, whom he described as his second family.

Judge Brown agreed to sentence Mr. Hibbard under the First Offender Act. If he successfully completes his sentence, no record of a conviction will remain.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT

Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. said that if the whole restitution and fine are paid in full, he would consider amending Hugh P. Hibbard's seven-year prison sentence and 13 years on probation.