Pete Beck sentenced to 4 years in prison

Former Warren County lawmaker Pete Beck is led from the courtroom in handcuffs on Thursday after being sentenced to four years in prison by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge John Andrew West. The sentence comes two months after Beck was found guilty on 13 0f 38 charges related to his involvement in Christopher Technologies, a failed start-up tech firm.
Former Warren County lawmaker Pete Beck is led from the courtroom in handcuffs on Thursday after being sentenced to four years in prison by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge John Andrew West. The sentence comes two months after Beck was found guilty on 13 0f 38 charges related to his involvement in Christopher Technologies, a failed start-up tech firm.

Credit: Greg Lynch

Credit: Greg Lynch

Plea deals

There were others involved in the alleged securities fraud scheme who took plea deals. Among them were:

  • former Christopher Technologies CEO and co-founder John Fussner pleaded guilty in April 2014 to two counts of securities fraud in exchange to testify against Beck. Sentencing is set for Tuesday.
  • Vernon "Chip" DeMois, a business consultant who pleaded no contest but found guilty in March 2015 on a securities violation count related to the Michael Farms deal. Sentencing is set for Tuesday.
  • Janet Combs, the widow of the late Tom Lysaght and pastor of the Ark by the River Fellowship which the state called "a cult" in court documents, pleaded guilty in November 2014 on a single count of receiving stolen property. She was sentenced to community control in January 2015.

Pete Beck showed no signs of emotion as he was led out of a Hamilton County courtroom with his wrists cuffed behind his back to start a four-year sentence Thursday, two months after being found guilty of 13 felony counts.

The former Marine and Warren County politician was sentenced two months after being found guilty for his involvement in the failed tech start-up firm Christopher Technologies. Prosecutors say he was the chief executive officer of the firm and a key reason why people invested and collectively lost millions of dollars on the company, but Beck’s defense team claimed he was merely a financial consultant and never forced or lied to convince people to invest.

The gallery in the fifth-floor Hamilton County courtroom was filled with a mix of people: supporters, interested by-standers and former investors of Christopher Technologies, many of whom have a civil suit against Beck. News media filled the jury box and floor space near Judge John Andrew West’s bench.

Beck was found guilty on June 2 on three theft counts, seven perjury counts and three securities-related counts that stemmed from a 54-count superseding indictment filed in February 2014 — seven months after Beck was initially indicted on 16 counts in July 2013.

Defense attorney Ralph Kohnen asked West for “mercy” that takes into account “the truly good man that he was and is. He’s a fundamentally good man.”

Kohnen asked that Beck’s sentence be in line with other former co-defendants, former C-Tech CEO John Fussner and Janet Combs, the widow of Tom Lysaght, the man the defense and prosecution claim was the instigator in defrauding investors out of millions of dollars. Kohnen said neither will receive jail time, saying Fussner was “much more involved than Mr. Beck” and Combs “profited so much more.”

Kohnen went on to say that Beck is “a humble and earnest man,” but made a mistake by trusting others, most notably Fussner and Lysaght, who was hired by Fussner to find investors.

“Mr. Beck was a juicy target for investigators and prosecutors in this case,” he said, “not because of who he really is, not so much because of what he’s done or what he didn’t do, but because he was an elected official and a certified public accountant.”

Beck never used his public office to influence others to invest, Kohnen said. It was Lysaght and others who touted Beck’s public office to build credibility.

“He did some things that were wrong during this sad odyssey,” Kohnen said. “You heard about those things during the 10 long weeks, but it took 10 long weeks to expose precious few things that he did wrong.”

Kohnen asked for leniency, saying Beck has a heart condition that could result in heart surgery and is under the care of a doctor at the VA hospital. He is also a non-violent offender and a prison sentence “is a waste of public resources.” Kohnen said an appeal will be filed with the First District Court of Appeals, and that an attorney will need to be appointed as he exhausted his financial resources defending himself.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Dan Kasaris said Beck has refused “to show a scintilla of remorse” and never said “I am sorry” for lying to investors.

Kasaris also said Beck caused “damage” to public officials statewide “because when the chairman of the Ohio Ways and Means Committee is convicted seven times for perjury for lying to three state agents, the palpable stench of this, your honor, reeks statewide.”

The prosecution asked for eight years, and Tom and Tina Walter — two investors in Christopher Technology and the lead plaintiffs in a 14-plaintiff civil suit against Beck — asked for nine years. West sentenced Beck to 12 months for the theft counts, 36 months for the perjury counts and four years for the securities counts. All three sentences will run concurrent.

“I think it’s more than fair,” said Tom Walter after the verdict. “Pete Beck never spoke in his own defense, never contacted any of the victims with an apology, and I think that came through loud and clear from the state.”

Tina Walter was the only investor to speak before the judge and said because of Beck’s “lies and deceit,” she and her husband were “ruined” financially and had to pay for their children’s college with credit cards.

Tom Walter, who said he felt bad for Beck’s family, believes the lack of an apology “weighed heavy on the judge’s decision.” He said Beck “told us things that were patently not true.”

Beck had met with Tom Walter and Lysaght in July 2008 for about 45 minutes. Walter testified that after that meeting he invested $150,000 based on what Lysaght and Beck said, and Beck’s credentials of being the Mason mayor and a CPA.

There was a dispute as to when that meeting actually took place — the prosecution contends it was before the Walters’ investment, but the defense said it happened after. The state chalked that up to a typo on the initial complaint filed with the Ohio Division of Securities by Tom Walter.

The verdict and sentence is a warning for people seeking to invest their money to be “very, very cautious,” Walter said.

“You need to do as much due diligence as possible as people will lie to you to their own benefit, and we’re paying the price as a result,” he said. “But we’ll get through it. We’re carrying on with our civil trial, and with the other victims we’ve all kind of circled the wagons together. There’s a lot of other players that are involved here that allowed this to go on.”

Throughout the entire trial, the prosecution had repeatedly hammered that Beck was a liar, which Kasaris said was proven true by the conviction of seven of 10 perjury counts.

“There’s no excuse for perjury,” he said. “Never, never, never. There is truth, and the truth demands respect.”

Kasaris also said Beck didn’t just steal from investors of Christopher Technologies, but “compounded his crimes further by stealing from the public. He stole its trust.”

The state was requesting $300,000 in restitution be paid by Beck to some of the investors. West did not order any restitution to be paid, agreeing with the defense that Beck likely doesn’t have the resources to pay restitution, but said any monetary settlement could be determined by the civil suit filed in January 2013.

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