Former owner of Freedom claims agreements broken
BY BRENNA R. KELLY | BKELLY@NKY.COM
Citing an ineffective defense attorney and broken agreements, the former owner of the Florence Freedom wants his prison sentence reduced.
Chuck Hildebrant, who has served one year of a five-year sentence, tricked banks into loaning him $7.2 million, some of which he used to build the minor league team's stadium.
His financial schemes unraveled in 2004 when contractors stopped work on the stadium after not being paid. The financial turmoil left the baseball team bankrupt and Florence out legal fees and lease payments.
Hildebrant, of Morrow, Ohio, pleaded guilty to the fraud, filing a false income tax return and making an illegal campaign contribution.
Now he says his sentence should have been shorter. In a motion filed from the Big Sandy federal prison in Inez, where he has been since January 2006, Hildebrant says he should have gotten special consideration because he helped prosecutors and because he was under mental strain.
The motion filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati says that Hildebrant explained his complicated fraud scheme to authorities and that his son helped the FBI in the drug distribution investigation of Pete Rose Jr.
Hildebrant states that his attorney, Jack Rubenstein, should have raised both issues during his sentencing in October 2005 but did not.
Rubenstein on Friday said he did not want to comment on the motion.
U.S. District Judge Michael Watson, who sentenced Hildebrant, said Friday that he is still considering Hildebrant's request for a hearing.
In the motion, Hildebrant says he began suffering from severe depression in February 2003, the same month he became involved in the baseball team.
Hildebrant says he was under "serious mental pressure" because he had to pay for all of the stadium construction when his partners refused to help because only he and his wife signed a lease to build the stadium on city-owned land.
Hildebrant says he was under even more pressure because his wife, Connie, was the team's general manager and his son Christopher "Flip" Hildebrant was a player on the team.
He said he also suffered from panic disorder with agoraphobia, a fear of being in public.
The fact that his lawyer did not tell the judge about his mental condition "cannot be found to be a tactical decision, it simply represents ineffective assistance," Hildebrant wrote.
In January 2005, before an indictment was issued, Hildebrant agreed to plead guilty. In his motion, he says he took investigators step by step through his case and gave them his computer.
He also states that his son gave the agents information about Pete Rose and Pete Rose Jr. Hildebrant claims his son "even wore a wire on several occasions in the attempt to catch Mr. Pete Rose and Mr. Pete Rose Jr. in their gambling and drug-trafficking case."
Hildebrant wrote that his son placed bets for the agents to hear. But local agents "did nothing with the information" so Hildebrant's son flew to Nashville where he cooperated with the FBI in investigation of Pete Rose Jr., the motion states.
In November 2005, Rose Jr. pleaded guilty in federal court in Nashville to distributing GHB, a steroid alternative, to his minor league teammates.
He was sentenced to one month in prison, a term he served last summer in the Boone County jail, and five months of home incarceration.
In his motion, Hildebrant says he understood that because of his son's assistance and his cooperation with the bank fraud investigation, he would "receive a benefit."
Though Hildebrant faults his attorney for not bringing up the issues during sentencing, he does not say in the motion why he did not bring up the issues during the two-hour hearing Oct. 20, 2005.
Hildebrant spoke at length at the hearing, explaining why he forged signatures to get a $3 million mortgage on property he did not own and how he made the campaign contribution to try to get an audience with President Bush.
He also tearfully apologized to his wife and two sons.
The U.S. Penitentiary-Big Sandy, where Hildebrant, 46, is serving his sentence, is known as a dangerous prison. Last year, there were two stabbing deaths at the prison about 200 miles southeast of Cincinnati. Hildebrant is scheduled to be released in June 2010. He will be on probation for five years after his release.
In addition to the sentence, Hildebrant also was ordered to pay $4 million to the city of Florence, stadium contractors, his cousin and three banks.
"The city is surprised, although it's not something we have direct ability to contest, we don't believe it has any merit," said Florence city attorney Hugh Skees. "But we're rather intrigued with the business about Pete Rose, we never had any inkling of that."
In addition to the $4 million Hildebrant must repay, he and his wife also owe Florence $5 million as the result of a civil lawsuit the city filed against the couple for breaching the lease agreement.
Though the couple filed bankruptcy, a judge determined the debt to Florence could not be cleared.
Last year Connie Hildebrant, who was estranged from her husband and living in Florida, told Florence attorneys that she was working at a women's shelter. She could not be reached for comment.