The former CEO of an Oregon-based senior housing development and management firm who pleaded guilty to fraud in 2015 saw his prison sentence commuted by former President Donald Trump late Tuesday.
At its peak, Sunwest was one of the largest assisted living operators in the U.S., with over 300 communities serving 15,000 residents. Harder was charged in 2012 with 56 counts of fraud in relation to his role in defrauding investors out of approximately $130 million between 2006 and 2008 — the largest investor fraud prosecution in Oregon history. Over 1,000 investors were defrauded in the scheme, many of them losing their life savings.
Sunwest underwent a restructuring after Harder stepped down in 2009. A private equity group bought most of the provider’s holdings, and investors eventually recouped some of their money. Sunwest ceased operations in 2010.
Initially, he pleaded not guilty to the charges before reversing course, and pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud and money laundering. Additionally, a federal judge dismissed a request from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to fine Harder with $180 million in civil penalties.
Multiple individuals including former U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan, who sentenced Harder, supported the commutation, according to a statement from the White House.
“Mr. Harder fully accepted responsibility, pled guilty, and cooperated with the government’s civil and criminal actions against him at great personal cost,” the statement read.
Others voiced their opposition to the commutation, The Oregonian reports. Mike Esler, an attorney who represented investors in the case, called the commutation a “travesty of justice” and noted that Harder continued to defraud investors after it was clear Sunwest was unsalvageable.
Former federal prosecutor Allan Garten, who led the case against Harden, cited the government’s sentencing memorandum which noted that Harden refused to provide personal financial information. Garten also criticized the outgoing president’s decision to commute Harden’s sentence.
“That he commuted the sentence without consideration to the victims is consistent with his behavior in his four years in office,” he said.
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