Former beef plant owners gets 8 years for defrauding Mississippi

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Richard N. Hall Jr., a Tennessee businessman who convinced the state to invest in a north Mississippi beef plant and left taxpayers with a $55 million debt when the enterprise failed, was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison.

"I was stupid and made foolish decisions," Hall told U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers at his sentencing in Oxford.

"I didn't come to defraud or steal. I came to build a lasting institution to benefit the state of Mississippi. I have hurt the community, my family and my friends. I hope and pray every day to be forgiven."

Biggers also gave Hall five years probation. Hall was ordered to make restitution of more than $751,000. He has already paid back $173,000, but still has to pay the remaining $558,177, prosecutors said.

Hall pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, one count of money laundering and one count of fraud on Jan. 25, 2006. Part of the original plea agreement with Hall was that he would not face any other charges.

Government prosecutors filed a motion to lessen Hall's sentence because of his cooperation.

Biggers denied the motion, noting that Hall's cooperation was part of the earlier plea agreement. If Hall gives additional information to help prosecute other individuals, the court would reconsider the motion to reduce Hall's sentence, Biggers said.

"He has been out for over 20 months, I think it is time for Mr. Hall to start serving his sentence," Biggers said.

The Oakland plant closed in August 2004, three months after it opened, because of failed equipment and a lack of operating capital. The 140,000-square-foot facility had employed 400 workers.

Community Bank, which financed the state-guaranteed loan, ended up owning the defunct plant. Texas-based Windsor Quality Food Co. bought the plant in June and has begun renovations.

Earlier this month, construction company owner Sean Carothers was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for paying kickbacks to Hall.

Carothers, whose firm had built the plant in 2003, also was sentenced to pay a $40,000 fine and $250,000 in restitution to the state.

Carothers admitted paying Hall $173,000 and helping Hall conceal the payments.

Planning for the beef plant started more than seven years ago but the facility was first debated in a public forum at a Water Valley Board of Aldermen meeting on March 19, 2002.

Hall, who lived in Nashville, Tenn., at the time, had said he wanted to open a state-of-the-art facility rather than restore an older plant and he selected Oakland because it was close to Interstate 55 and had other transportation routes nearby.

Hall had said the plant would help local cattle owners sell their product easier.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)