Moyler sentenced to 18 months

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, March 10, 2010

COURTLAND—James Edward Moyler Jr., the former Franklin attorney accused of taking more than $4 million from clients’ estates while serving as executor of their wills, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Tuesday in Southampton County Circuit Court.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a case quite like yours,” Judge John C. Morrison Jr. told Moyler in court before passing the sentence. “Nonetheless, I’m going to try to do what’s fair.”

Morrison gave Moyler, accused of embezzling millions from the estate of Lucille K. Steinhardt, two years in prison for each of the six embezzlement counts against him. The judge then suspended all but 18 months of that sentence. The maximum penalty Moyler could have received was 120 years in prison, or 20 years per count.

It was revealed in court that Moyler — who will turn 80 on April 1 and is suffering from several health problems — is scheduled to have an unspecified surgical procedure on March 30. Morrison ordered Moyler to surrender to authorities at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk on April 20.

“It’s my hope that following this surgery that you will quickly be put with the (state) Department of Corrections,” Morrison said, adding that he wanted to see Moyler eventually transferred to the Deerfield Correctional Center near Capron. “It’s my hope that you will be properly cared for.”

Moyler is to be sentenced on May 10 in federal court on one count of making a false declaration in a bankruptcy case, which he pleaded guilty to on Jan. 26. He faces a maximum of five years in prison for that charge.

“I was pleased that the judge imposed incarceration,” Southampton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Cooke said afterward. “It wasn’t the amount that I asked for, but he took all of the circumstances into consideration and fashioned a verdict that he thought was fair.”

Asked if he was ever concerned that Moyler wouldn’t receive time behind bars, Cooke said, “Nothing’s ever certain until the judge rules, but I felt like this was a case that called for it, considering the harm that was done to the community.”

Cooke added, “I know it will be difficult for Mr. Moyler and his family, but the crime certainly warranted it.”

Moyler spoke in court just before Morrison passed sentence.

“I never intended to take this money for my personal use or anything of that nature,” Moyler said, briefly describing the investments he made in a hotel in North Carolina that eventually went bankrupt. “It was a poor business decision on my part. I was left holding the bag.”

Moyler’s voice broke when he told the judge that he and his wife, Carole, currently live in a small Williamsburg apartment solely on their Social Security benefits. He said that he recently discovered that if he were incarcerated she wouldn’t receive his benefit money.

“(But) I certainly want to pay my debt to society,” Moyler said.

The former attorney was also ordered to pay about $4.2 million in restitution, but few people involved in the case, including the judge, believe that will ever happen.

“Unless his financial situation has changed, I don’t see how that order can be complied with,” Morrison said.

Added Cooke: “I don’t know the specific amount, but there’s very little residual money left in that estate. Mr. Moyler stole most of it. There are a lot of fees that will have to be paid out for the accountings and the various other things that are happening on all of these estates. I suspect that there will not be much, if anything, left.”

Steinhardt was from a widely known and wealthy Franklin family who ran a downtown hardware store. Since she didn’t have heirs, she left sums of money to friends and family members who looked after her.

Her will bequeathed one-fourth of the remaining value of her estate to Franklin Fire & Rescue, half to the University of Richmond for scholarships, and one-fourth to Southampton Memorial Hospital.

Cooke called Franklin Fire & Rescue Chief Vince Holt as a witness before sentencing.

“A million dollars would have been a huge shot in the arm for the department,” Holt said, adding that the Steinhardt money more than likely would have been used for capital improvements. The fire chief said a new ambulance with equipment costs about $200,000, a new fire truck between $400,000 and $450,000.

“The sad thing about the whole situation is that a good family and a good lady’s wishes were not carried out,” Holt said outside the courthouse. “I think the justice system did their job. It’s just sad for everybody involved, including the Moylers.”

Steinhardt family member Susan Lassiter was also called by Cooke to testify.

“I wish I had made myself more aware, did more checking,” Lassiter said. “I kept waiting, thinking the Steinhardt name would be recognized for the money left to the city. I really didn’t ever think that they didn’t see the money.”

Lassiter said the Steinhardt family came to the U.S. from Germany with nothing, opened their hardware store and lived modestly. She said they left no money to the immediate families, electing instead to give it to the community.

“That’s the type of people they were,” Lassiter said. “This (crime) is a disgrace to our family. We have been very victimized.”

Tom Watkins, the public defender representing Moyler, called several character witnesses before sentencing as well, including Joseph Hutt Jr., a retired vice president of Manry Rawls Insurance Co. and a friend of Moyler’s since 1947.

“To my knowledge he has not lived a lavish lifestyle,” Hutt said of Moyler. “Before the reports came out in the newspaper, I never had any reason to question his character and honesty. It’s my belief that he never intended to harm anyone.”

Dr. Robert T. Edwards, a lifelong friend and former next-door neighbor, also testified in support of Moyler.

“He was one of the finest human beings to know, and the most honest man I ever dealt with,” Edwards said. “He has done a lot of nice things for this community. He’s been generous and was a great advocate of helping Southampton and Franklin grow.”

Edwards added, “It’s beyond understanding that this could happen. I know that he is regretful. I beg you to consider what a gentleman he has been.”

Although several members of Moyler’s family said they were advised not to comment on Tuesday’s proceedings because of the upcoming sentencing in federal court, James E. Moyler III said the approximately 20 people who spoke in his father’s defense moved him and his family.

“These are family friends,” James Moyler said. “We were a part of the community for a long time. They love our dad and we love them.”

But he acknowledged that not everyone was happy with his father’s actions.

“There’s some in the community that want a pound of flesh,” James Moyler said. “Without all of the information, I don’t blame them.”

In August it was revealed in Suffolk Circuit Court that the estates handled by Moyler, once collectively worth millions, are now worth a fraction of that and could possibly be depleted because of overdue taxes.

In the civil case, Judge Designate William C. Andrews III entered civil judgments in Southampton County Circuit Court against Moyler, including one for $4,072,363.76 to the Steinhardt estate.

Three other judgments were also issued — one for the estate of Mallory Kenneth Brown for $103,000, another for the estate of Robert A. Pretlow Jr. for $55,559.87 and $17,347.33 for the Issac Buster Rudolph Teachy estate.