While it’ll ultimately be up to Judge Ronnie Abrams to levy a punishment on Richmond businessman Michael Hild at a hearing in Manhattan this afternoon, federal prosecutors and Hild’s attorney looked to sway the judge in recent days.
Hild’s camp, in filings sent to Abrams, argued that the former Live Well Financial CEO should get only probation, or at most 37 months in prison for his conviction of a bond pricing scheme that led to the downfall of his once-fast-growing Chesterfield mortgage company.
Federal prosecutors, on the other hand, say a sentence of close to 15 years is more appropriate for a scam that defrauded multiple banks of tens of millions of dollars.
In calling for leniency, Hild’s attorney questions the government’s calculations of the losses suffered by those lenders, claiming the number is speculative and should be disregarded for sentencing. He also argues that Hild should not have to pay restitution.
A jury found Hild guilty in April 2021 of a fraud that inflated the value of Live Well’s reverse mortgage bonds in order to induce the lenders into loaning the company more money than they otherwise would have.
The government argues that those lenders lost $95 million as a result, while documents submitted to the court by the lenders pegs the loss at $85 million.
Prosecutors also argue that Hild personally pocketed more than $20 million as a result. Hild says that number is closer to $9.5 million.
Hild’s attorney also leans on dozens of letters sent to the judge from family members and friends of Hild’s, who describe him as a modest, dependable and trustworthy man raised by parents who taught him a strong work ethic.
“Michael’s history and characteristics weigh heavily in favor of leniency. As the dozens of letters to the Court from Michael’s family members and longtime friends demonstrate, Michael is a committed husband, son, brother, and friend,” the documents state, adding that Hild has no prior criminal history.
A Michigan native, Hild was raised primarily in Fort Wright, Kentucky, according to the filings. His father developed data processing systems for banks, while his mother was a homemaker and later owned a bookstore and coffee shop.
Hild was a strong student at a private Catholic high school and excelled at Cornell University, where he earned a degree in economics while playing wide receiver on the football team.
After working for nearly a decade at Capital One, court documents and letters state he was motivated to launch Live Well as a reverse mortgage lender after watching his father struggle to handle his finances in retirement. Hild started Live Well in 2005 from his home in Church Hill and grew it to hundreds of employees.
“Live Well was started for the sole purpose in helping senior citizens financially in their later years. Mike saw it as an opportunity to help not only seniors but it also gave him a chance to start his own business,” Hild’s wife Laura wrote in her letter to the judge.
The general theme of the nearly four dozen letters of support included in the court record are that the government’s allegations are not consistent with Hild’s character.
To emphasize that, Hild’s lawyer cites a quote from another judge from another case: “Surely, if ever a man is to receive credit for the good he has done, and his immediate misconduct assessed in the context of his overall life hitherto, it should be at the moment of his sentencing, when his very future hangs in the balance.”
Notably, both sides agree that the federal sentencing guideline suggestion for Hild to serve 27-33 years is unwarranted.
Still, prosecutors don’t sugar coat what they see as the severity of Hild’s actions.
“The defendant orchestrated a brazen, multi-year scheme to fraudulently inflate the value of bonds held by his company… and repeatedly lied to and misled the company’s lenders and outside auditors in order to enrich himself and his co-conspirators.”
Those co-conspirators are former Live Well CFO Eric Rohr and bond department head Darren Stumberger. Both were charged with the same crimes as their former boss and both pleaded guilty and were key witnesses against Hild during the trial, including damning recordings made by Stumberger and played for the jury. They’re set to be sentenced in the coming months. Hild was the only one of the three to plead not guilty, stating defiantly at the time, “While Live Well unfortunately failed, every business failure is not a corporate crime.”
Prosecutors also argue against leniency by claiming Hild committed “extensive perjury” from the witness stand when he testified during his trial as to his knowledge of the liquidity of the bonds in question.
As he did during trial, Hild pleaded to the judge in these latest filings that he trusted others to run the day-to-day of the bond business.
His attorney also cites a legal argument related to so-called “risk shifting,” a term used in discussions of white-collar criminal cases where there are questions of whether a defendant intentionally defrauded their victims.
“Michael is remorseful for the impact this case has had on all involved. But Michael did not set out to commit fraud,” his attorney states.
Another of Hild’s calls for leniency emphasize the effect his incarceration would have on his remaining businesses and real estate holdings, most of which are in Manchester, as well as his wife’s financial future.
“If incarcerated, Michael’s family’s local businesses will likely collapse,” his lawyer states, adding that he handled the bulk of management of the businesses. Their Manchester businesses include Dogtown Brewing, Hot Diggity Donuts and Butter Bean Market, all of which have been largely closed since the arrival of the pandemic.
“Michael’s prosecution has already strained these businesses and made it difficult to hire staff. The shuttering of these businesses could well set off a chain of bankruptcies, which could lead to a clawback of historic tax credits used by Laura to renovate the derelict homes in Manchester, further imperiling Laura’s financial freedom,” his lawyer writes.
Hild’s attorney also puts emphasis on the negative effect the press coverage of his legal troubles has had on his life, arguing that the media fallout has been its own sort of punishment.
“With the collapse of Live Well, Michael lost his sizable investments in the company and nearly all of his assets. Michael’s wife’s job is in potential jeopardy due to Michael’s conviction and the surrounding press coverage, which has spanned years and many dozens of articles detailing the government’s allegations,” the filing states.
“Regardless of the sentence imposed, this case, related litigation, and ensuing publicity will continue to affect Michael and Laura, who, in the wake of the publicity surrounding this case, has had to file for a protective order at the recommendation of police for her safety and welfare,” his lawyer added, alluding to a separate lawsuit filed against the Hilds by the trustee of the Live Well bankruptcy estate. The company’s Chapter 7 litigation is ongoing.
Hild is represented in the criminal case by attorney Brian Jacobs of New York law firm Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Anello.
The sentencing hearing is set to take place this afternoon at 4 p.m. at the U.S. District Courthouse for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. Should he be sentenced to prison, Hild asks to be allowed to remain free on bond pending appeal.
He has been on bail since he was first arrested and charged in September 2019, and his lawyer argues he poses no flight risk or danger to others.