Atascadero News File Photo - Tamara and Kelly Gearhart, pictured in center, are honored as the 2005 Citizens of the Year by Joanne Main, left, and Donn Clickard of the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce at the chamber’s annual dinner on Jan. 28, 2006.
ATASCADERO — A 16-count federal indictment alleging former Atascadero developer Kelly Gearhart engaged in fraud and money laundering between 2004 and 2008 would appear to cast in a dark light Gearhart’s honor as 2005 Citizen of the Year by the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce.
But what’s now come to light caught the chamber by surprise as much as anyone, said Donn Clickard, who is a current Board of Directors member and presented Gearhart and wife Tamara with the honor at the chamber’s annual dinner on Jan. 28, 2006.
“Like a lot of people, I feel really badly that this has happened,” Clickard said. “I feel badly for the people who were victims of the actions he took. I still have to say, however, that back in 2006 when he was citizen of the year, he certainly met the qualifications of that, certainly in terms of everything we knew about him at the time.”
When the Gearharts were named as the co-citizens of the year, it was only the second time a husband-and-wife duo had received the honor, according to the Feb. 3, 2006 Atascadero News.
At the time, the chamber noted that Gearhart had attended an Atascadero High School football game in 2003 and noticed the deteriorated condition of the track, but upon learning that there wasn’t room in the school district’s budget to resurface it, he cut a check for $7,500 to the Atascadero Greyhound Athletic Foundation.
The chamber also noted at the dinner in 2006 that the Gearharts had donated money to Loaves and Fishes, the Atascadero Police K-9 unit, the North County Humane Society, AHS for a new baseball fence, a Morro Bay High School wrestler to attend the national tournament, Matthew Mack so he could attend a performing arts school in Los Angeles, the first annual Colony Days Swing Dance, Families Helping Families, and many others.
The criteria for the award is that the recipients must be active members of the community and “they must be instrumental in the upward growth and support of Atascadero and have a tireless devotion to the betterment of the citizens who live here,” as reported in the News in 2006.
“I knew that Kelly’s pursuit at that time was doing what was best for kids,” Clickard said. “He was a contributor in the community for all kinds of youth sports. He contributed many thousands of dollars and hours of his time to the construction of the track and the construction of the restrooms at the facility.”
So when media reports started to come out of elderly investors losing their life savings as Gearhart’s empire crumbled and he moved to Ohio, it was a shock, having to reconcile the man who had done so much for the community with the man who is now accused by a federal grand jury of bilking investors out of millions of dollars.
“Before things came crashing down, Kelly did many good things for the community,” said Barbie Butz, who is active with the chamber and also with the Colony Days Committee, which named Gearhart as the Colony Days Parade Grand Marshall in 2007. “He and Tamara put a lot of effort and money into projects around this community. However, as has happened to many others in similar positions, ego and money got in the way.”
If convicted on all 16 counts, Gearhart faces a maximum of 300 years in federal prison. The indictment accuses him of promising to use investors’ funds for specific projects, but instead used the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle, build other projects and make interest payments to other investors. The indictment also accuses him of selling the same lot to multiple purchasers.
He will be arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles on Aug. 13.
Gearhart has not been arrested, and is expected to appear in court in Los Angeles.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she assumes a decision was made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI agents, and through Gearhart’s attorney, that he doesn’t appear to pose a flight risk.
The case is related to that against James Hurst Miller, Jr., the former president of Hurst Financial Corporation. Miller pleaded guilty in September 2011 to four counts of fraud and money laundering charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 29.
“We just do the best we can at the time we’re doing it,” Clickard said. “It’s just such a shame this is how it’s ending up.”
For the complete article see the 07-11-2012 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 07-11-2012 paper.