Judge: Parish deserved long prison term

Al Parish

Convicted economist Al Parish deserved his 24-year prison sentence because he took advantage of people he'd known for years and didn't act out of financial necessity or after a life of neglect, "unlike many criminal defendants," the sentencing judge wrote Wednesday.

Additionally, Chief Judge David Norton said Parish continued to ruin lives even after he knew his investment world was coming to an end.

"Although (the) defendant might have begun his scheme with good intentions, he encouraged victims to invest large sums of money long after he knew his scheme would collapse," the judge said.

Norton's comments came in a sentencing memorandum federal judges file after a defendant is sentenced. It explains the judge's legal logic, reasoning and applicable law.

Parish was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission as early as February 2007 but was still accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest, Norton said. Among his last victims were a co-worker and the elderly.

"Those stories undercut defendant's contention that he never intended to harm his victims," wrote Norton, who called Parish "a confidence man" who used his stature in the community, favorable media coverage and his Christianity "to build trust with existing and prospective investors."

The sentence of 24 years and four months was at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines. The high end was up to 30 years. Norton said he went with the lower number "because it is sufficient but not greater than necessary" to accomplish justice and promote respect for the law.

Parish's defense attorney, Andy Savage, had argued the crime warranted a much less severe prison term — as little as in the six-year range — which "would give him some glimmer of hope" of outliving his term of imprisonment.

Savage has said he will file an appeal of the sentence, saying it was disproportionate to similar fraud cases.

Parish, a former economist at Charleston Southern University, last month was sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to a massive case of fraud. Nearly 600 people lost up to $66 million turned over to Parish and his private investment "pools." Investigators cataloguing what was left of Parish's empire likely will recover between $9 million and $15 million for the investors. However, the hunt to secure those assets already has cost more than $2 million.

Norton also ordered Parish to pay restitution of $66.8 million, though he did not appear confident the debt would ever be settled. "Of course, unless defendant wins the Powerball lottery, it will be impossible for him to make restitution in this amount," Norton wrote.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551, or skropf@postandcourier.com. Reach Kyle Stock at 937-5763 or kstock@postandcourier.com.