NEWS- Scam sentence: Thomas Coghill gets 30 months
Developer/swindler Thomas E. Coghill Jr. had already pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud, so his sentencing hearing should have been pretty straightforward.
Instead, the man who left unpaid bills all over town in the 1990s moved to withdraw his guilty plea and have the prosecutor removed from the case.
The March 15 proceeding dragged on for seven hours before Coghill was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and ordered to pay almost $3 million in restitution to two victims of his house-building scam.
In both cases, Coghill borrowed money to build homes by using houses for collateral that did not exist or belonged to someone else, and he falsified documents to show completed houses that were actually just empty lots.
Coghill's attorney, Curtis Fallgatter, earned a rebuke from Judge Norman Moon when he contended Coghill actually had overpaid Anchor Capital of Potomac, Maryland, by $600,000. Anchor estimated a loss of around $3 million.
"You're bordering on not accepting responsibility," Moon warned. "You're bordering on blaming the victim. I'm putting you on notice."
Fallgatter also accused Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Hogeboom of grand jury abuse. He claimed that Hogeboom "made derogatory comments to business associates of Coghill's." In court, Hogeboom fired back, calling Fallgatter's accusations "scurrilous." Moon denied the motions to withdraw Coghill's guilty plea and to remove Hogeboom.
Later, Fallgatter told the Hook that Coghill was an alcoholic at the time he was bilking investors here. "Fortunately, he has had a successful turnaround and has some successful business ventures down here that would fund restitution," the attorney said.
Coghill, who now lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida, appeared in court in prison stripes because of at least one of those business ventures.
"He wasn't allowed to enter into any financial transactions or deals without the notification and approval of the U.S. Probation Office," says Heidi Coy, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District of Virginia. Coghill was taken into custody March 13 for a real estate transaction to purchase land in Florida, says Coy.
Fallgatter disagrees that Coghill violated the terms of his bond, but says, "We're thankful Judge Moon re-instated his probation and allowed him to self-report to prison." Coghill's father, Thomas E. Coghill Sr., posted a $250,000 bond.
Coghill took the stand to note that he had started between five and six LLCs in Florida since he was indicted in 2004, and he requested probation so those business ventures could fund restitution. He also mentioned that his girlfriend drives a Porsche, and his son an Escalade.
Moon declined the probation request, and ordered restitution of $2.8 million to Anchor Capital and $170,000 to First Western Investment in Charlottesville, which claimed Coghill did not repay $500,000 in loans.
While criminal charges were brought because of Coghill's schemes with those two companies and a Richmond bank, they were not the only victims of his duplicity. He left dozens of unpaid subcontractors and suppliers, according to sources familiar with his activities.
"I know from investigating and talking to folks, they'd say, 'He owes me money,'" U.S. prosecutor Tom Bondurant told the Hook last summer. "Like every time we talked to people."
Tom Beasley, owner of heating and air-conditioning firm Blue Ridge Services, called Coghill "a silver-tongued devil" who stiffed him for $357,000.
Charlottesville photographer Tom Cogill is glad to know Coghill will be behind bars for a while. Because of the similarity of their names, Cogill often got phone calls for Coghill, who wasn't listed in the phone book. Then he got a summons for a legal matter in Norfolk.
The worst mix-up occurred in 2002 as the photographer was cooking 80 chicken breasts for his daughters' graduation dinner. A sheriff's deputy arrived with an arrest warrant meant for Coghill.
"They put me in handcuffs and took me to jail and had me booked on felony bad checks charges," recalls Cogill. He was released later that night but still had to appear in court in Spotsylvania County to clear up the confusion.
This week, Cogill wanted to help his daughter buy a house and discovered his credit is worse than hers because of the Coghill complications. "I usually hate for anybody to go to prison, but I was so happy to hear that guy got caught," says Cogill.
Coghill has requested to do his time at a Florida prison. Says attorney Fallgatter, "Everyone is anxious to put this behind. He wants some finality in his life."
CORRECTION 3/19/2009: The sentence Coghill received was erroneously reported in the original story and has been corrected.
Most of those bilked by Thomas E. Coghill Jr. were too embarrassed to press charges. Two companies did, however, and saw him get a 30-month prison sentence and an order to pay nearly $3 million in restitution.
MUGSHOT COURTESY ALBEMARLE COUNTY POLICE
I am not a crook. Photographer Tom Cogill, right, (shown with restaurateur buddy Dave Simpson) has been the victim of mistaken identity, and was once arrested on a warrant for Tom Coghill.
FILE PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER