COLUMBIA - State parole officials decided Wednesday to reject a request for early release for former HomeGold executive Ronnie Sheppard, sending him back to prison for at least another year despite his attorney's pleas that his poor health would benefit from private care.

A three-member panel of the state parole board voted unanimously against releasing Sheppard, whose lawyers argued that he needs outside medical care because of a recent heart surgery.

Sheppard, 56, is serving a 20-year sentence for securities fraud, conspiracy and obtaining property under false pretenses for his role in the 2003 collapse of HomeGold and its subsidiary Carolina Investors. More than 8,000 investors lost $275 million in one of the biggest bankruptcies in state history. Five other executives either pleaded guilty or were convicted.

Michele Forsythe, one of Sheppard's attorneys, told the board Wednesday that it took Department of Corrections officials three hours to get her client to a hospital after a September heart attack. Now, she said, Sheppard needs extensive rehab to help stave off additional problems.

Appearing in a video feed from prison, Sheppard said that he has a job lined up for after his release and often thinks of the investors who lost money. Both Sheppard and his attorneys argued that the company was already failing when Sheppard became part of it.

"I apologized for my role in any money that was lost," Sheppard said. "I tried to do what I thought was the right thing to do."

Several members of the parole board questioned Sheppard as to whether investors were adequately informed that the company was failing. Noting that some of that information was in quarterly reports, Sheppard repeatedly said that his expertise was on the mortgage, not the securities, side of the company.

"I felt like I could come in and fix this problem," he said. "I didn't realize that me coming in to run a business was a criminal act."

Several investors testified Wednesday against Sheppard's early release. Gene Gregory, an 81-year-old Union man, said he'll never know what happened to the $1.4 million he lost.

"It takes a long time to make the money back," Gregory said. "I feel like he ought to stay there and finish out his time."

Thomas Pollard, a 78-year-old investor from Easley, said he placed little stock in Sheppard's medical issues and suggested conditions the parole board could consider if it released Sheppard.

"Let's make him live in Pickens County for the rest of his life among all of his victims," Pollard told the panel. "The people he victimized will know who and where and what to stay away from."

Sheppard's release was also opposed by Sr. Asst. Deputy Attorney General Allen Myrick, who pointed out to the panel that those who testified Wednesday represented thousands of others.

"The money was the wages that these people had earned over the course of a lifetime," he said.

Sheppard is eligible to ask for parole again next year. He is scheduled to be released in 2016.


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