Lu Hardin, the former University of Central Arkansas president who in March pleaded guilty to two felonies related to a $300,000 bonus he obtained through deception, has been sentenced to five years of probation for each count.
The probation sentences will run concurrently. U.S. District Judge James Moody also sentenced Hardin to 200 hours of community service during each year of his probationary period. And he is required to continue participating in Gamblers Anonymous.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Harris, the prosecutor in the case, said the government would not appeal the sentence.
Moody had calculated the federal sentencing guideline range for Hardin’s crimes at 18 to 24 months, but Harris revealed during the hearing that a motion he filed under seal last week recommended a sentence reduction as a reward for Hardin’s cooperation in another federal investigation.
Harris did not reveal what that investigation was about, and he said an indictment in the other case might or might not be forthcoming. After the hearing, Harris said Hardin had met with the FBI concerning the other case after his guilty plea in March.
That consideration reduced the guideline range to 9 to 12 months, and Moody said he had concluded that probation was "the most appropriate" sentence for Hardin. Chuck Banks, Hardin’s defense attorney, called his client’s crimes an "aberration" from "a life well lived."
During the 45-minute hearing, Banks made a heartfelt plea for leniency, continuing the argument he began earlier this month with sentencing memorandum outlining reasons for a sentence that would not include prison time.
After Banks’ comments, Hardin approached the bench and told Moody that the remorse in his heart "transcends anything that can be written." He also talked about the origins of his gambling addiction, which began the first time he played a slot machine on a vacation 12 years ago.
"It was something I loved from the first time I did it," Hardin said. He said he had been participating in Gamblers Anonymous for "almost a year," meaning he joined the program some two years after he left UCA.
"I stand before you very sorry," Hardin told Moody. "My conduct was no up to my standards. It was an aberration, but that doesn’t justify anything."
Hardin personally asked the judge for a probationary sentence, but then he said, "Any decision, I can tell you, I humbly accept. Humbly accept."
Hardin was accompanied to court by his wife of 37 years, Mary, and his two children, KARK-TV news anchor Mallory Hardin and Scott "Scooter" Hardin, an employee of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Wire Fraud, Money Laundering
Hardin resigned as president of Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida days before pleading guilty in March to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering.
Specifically, Hardin, who turned 60 earlier this month, admitted that he committed wire fraud in 2008 by dictating a letter to the UCA trustees that appeared to be from three subordinate administrators making the case that it would be legal and proper for Hardin to receive immediate payment of a $300,000 bonus that he might have been eligible for in 2010.
The trustees acted on the letter, and his deceit resulted in an illegal wire transfer between UCA’s account at First Security Bank and Hardin’s account at Centennial Bank. The money laundering charge refers to three transactions of more than $10,000 each in which the money acquired by fraud was then used to buy cashier’s checks "which affected interstate commerce."
At the time, Hardin was paid about $250,000, although his total compensation package was in excess of $500,000.
Hardin repaid the $199,000 he had received after taxes were withheld shortly after the artifice was discovered, a point he made to the judge during the hearing.
Hardin waived his right to have the evidence against him presented to a grand jury for possible indictment and instead pleaded guilty to charges, called an "information," filed directly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Click here to see a PDF of the information.
According to information provided to the court, Hardin had concocted to receive an early bonus from the university because he was in "financial distress with a large personal debt" later shown to be the result of his gambling habit.
Why Lu Hardin Will Be Sentenced to Prison (Gwen Moritz Editor’s Note)
Lu Hardin Appeals for Lenient Sentence
(With reporting by Gwen Moritz.)