|By Daphne Duret, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.|
Inside, former financial planner
Yeatts, who testified against Hardman, told the jurors that the
"I know it seems weird for me to be smiling about something like that, but I'm happy. That man took everything I had," she said after smiling and clapping her hands when she heard that Hardman, 63, faces a minimum sentence of 34 months in prison but could theoretically face up to 45 years in prison when Rapp sentences him
Hardman originally faced allegations that he stole more than
He met some of the victims through the financial planning business he inherited from his father and befriended others, such as Yeatts, in a support group. According to arrest reports, he had investors sign up to invest in a company called "Tech Support Systems" and sign agreements identifying the investments as a "loan" with himself as the personal guarantor. In most cases he made some "interest" payments to the investors but eventually stopped.
Though his arrest report lists more than a dozen alleged victims, prosecutors dropped some of Hardman's charges well before his trial this week. And on Friday Rapp dismissed five securities fraud charges before jurors began deliberating.
The six-member panel convicted Hardman of one count each of first-degree and second-degree grand theft, returing the guilty verdict in less than an hour, something Lewis-Perrin and fellow prosecutor
"He ran this scam for a long time, and it was time he got caught," Lewis-Perrin said.
Hardman had insisted in a recorded interrogation with Sheriff's Detective
"I'm embarrassed and I feel totally bad," Hardman said in the recording played for jurors. "I feel like [expletive]. I had no intention of doing anything wrong to these people."
She noted a part of the recorded interrogation where an investigator was incredulous at Hardman's claims that he'd forgotten what he'd done with Yeatts'
"I think the mainstream person who has a regular 9-to-5 job and who doesn't see how big money is made wouldn't understand that process," Gardner said, later adding that a series of failed deals created a "perfect storm" that left Hardman unable to repay the loans. "This is like debtors prison."
Yeatts and others who gave Harman money, however, called the conviction just punishment for a man they consider a con artist.
The investment adviser license for
Yet Yeatts said Hardman told her he was fully licensed in 2008, when she gave him the
Yeatts remembers calling Hardman a year later to get her money back, only to have Hardman stall her for months. One day, she said, she sat in his office for an hour and watched him constantly hit the refresh button on a web page, saying he was waiting for the transfer on her money to be posted to her account "any minute."
Another time, she said, he promised he'd liquidate his own assets if necessary to make sure she got her money. At their last encounter, Yeatts said, Hardman tossed a
"I was so embarrassed," Yeatts said. "But I took the money because I was hungry."
After that, Yeatts said, she began looking for a lawyer.
Yeatts, who became a friend of Hardman's family after meeting him in 1999, doesn't believe she'll ever get back her money back.
"He broke my heart," Yeatts said of Hardman. "But I have to believe that something good will come out of this."
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