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Former attorney sentenced to 14 years

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By Deidre Wilson

Senior Judge Paul Summers sentenced former attorney Wesley Lynn Hatmaker to serve 14 years in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction on Tuesday.

Last month, Hatmaker pleaded guilty to two counts of theft over $10,000 (class C felonies) and four counts of theft over $60,000 (class C felonies).

Summers ordered that Hatmaker be taken into the immediate custody of the Campbell County jail to begin serving his sentence.

“The court feels that Mr. Hatmaker understood the jeopardy he was in when he came to court today,” Summers said in response to a motion from Hatmaker’s attorney Stephen Johnson that Hatmaker’s bond remain in place pending an appeal.

Hatmaker will be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of his sentence.

He was indicted in May of last year on those charges as well as one count of theft over $250,000, but that charge was dismissed.

Eighth Judicial District Assistant Attorneys General Tom Barclay and Courtney Stanifer said during Hatmaker’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday that Hatmaker took close to $500,000 from six victims (five estates and one individual) beginning in 2009 and culminating in 2015.

During the hearing, Barclay read a letter from Hatmaker’s first victim.

She asked that Hatmaker’s sentence include prison time.

Two of the other victims gave testimony and answered questions from both the district attorneys and Hatmaker’s attorney.

Tammy Albright told the court Hatmaker oversaw her sister’s estate

Her sister, who died from cancer, intended for Albright’s daughter to be the beneficiary of her estate to use to pay for school.

“She not only lost her life, but she lost her life savings, which she worked very hard for,” Albright said.

Her daughter has had to change her plans for her education, she said.

“He stole people’s hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, and he’s shown no remorse,” she said.

Carl Blankenship said Hatmaker was appointed to oversee his father’s estate.

After a payment of $15,000 from the Tennessee Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, which Hatmaker will have to repay, the amount of damages to Blankenship’s father’s estate is still over $40,000, Barclay said.

Blankenship said, “I feel like I’ve been robbed, took, and then he tried to charge me $5,000 for robbing me.”

Blankenship said Hatmaker would tell him that he was waiting on a release from Tenncare to release the funds.

Chancellor Elizabeth Asbury said Blankenship and his sister had complained about the delay, so she had the clerk place the matter on a docket in October of 2015.

She said, on that date, she took the parties into chambers and called Tenncare, who faxed the releases to her within half an hour.

Once they received the releases, she said they began discussing the release of the funds.

“At that time Mr. Hatmaker said he had the money,” Asbury said.

She said it was a Friday, and she had told Hatmaker to have the funds deposited with the clerk by 4 p.m. that day. She said he told her he wouldn’t be able to have the funds deposited by then, so she gave him until 4 p.m. on Monday.

On Monday, she said he came to her and told her he wasn’t going to be able to deposit the money.

“He was very tearful, crying, very emotional,” Asbury said.

“I have never been so disappointed and angry at someone in my life,” she said.

“I have been in the legal profession most of my life, and I hold lawyers to high, high standards,” she said.

Of Hatmaker’s victims, she said, “A lot of them are people of little means, and the amount of money involved was a huge amount of money to them and had a huge impact on their lives.

“It’s repugnant, and that’s all I’m going to say,” she said.

Attorney Steven Hurst expressed similar sentiments.

“I’ve been a prosecutor, and, as a prosecutor, I would want Wes to do time. I’m a lawyer, and I’m disappointed, and I think it’s reflected badly on all of us. I’m representing a client. If he goes to prison...it’s not going to help my client any,” he said.

Hurst testified on behalf of his client, a girl who he said was a minor at the time he had arranged for Hatmaker to pay funds from an account to her periodically.

Hatmaker took some of the funds he was entrusted with.

When he and Hatmaker discussed the stolen funds, Hurst said Hatmaker was “very remorseful at the time.”

Hurst said his client had decided not to testify, but that he had talked with her about what she thought should happen to Hatmaker.

“My discussion with her is she wants some type of long-term probation,” Hurst said.

“She needs the money more than she needs the retribution.”

Hatmaker’s attorney called no witnesses to testify, but Hatmaker gave an unsworn statement to the court.

He said, “Your honor, I am truly sorry for my actions, and I accept full responsibility for what I did. I stole money from my clients, money that I was entrusted with...I must live with the shame of what I did for the rest of my life. I am a convicted felon.”

Of his sentence, Hatmaker said, “My children need me as a parent and provider. My former clients, my victims in this case, need me to continue to work to try to make restitution.

“I’m so thankful for the love, support and forgiveness of my friends, family and loved ones.”

Johnson noted the many letters of support that were written for Hatmaker and that many of those who had written letters were in the courtroom.

He also said Hatmaker was remorseful and was working and making efforts to make restitution to the victims and asked Summers to take this into consideration when determining Hatmaker’s sentence.

Summers did but said he gave it little weight.

Johnson did not dispute one factor prosecutors presented that could lead to a stronger sentence for Hatmaker — that he had abused his position of trust as an attorney and used his license in a manner that aided in the commission of the thefts.

This is also ultimately the enhancement factor Summers considered the most heavily.

“Mr. Hatmaker was a licensed lawyer at all times. He brought dishonor upon himself, his profession. He brought grief and consternation to all of his victims. The court places great weight on this factor as to all counts,” Summers said.

Hatmaker was disbarred from the practice of law in October.