Case in Point

End of the trail

Flight and capture of a fugitive comptroller

Between 1998 and February 2009, accountant James T. Hammes embezzled more than $8.7 million from his employer, G&J Pepsi-Cola Bottlers Inc. He was indicted shortly thereafter on 75 counts — including 38 for wire fraud and 36 for money laundering — but wasn’t arrested until May 16, 2015. (See the FBI release, FBI Announces Arrest of Fugitive Suspect James T. Hammes, May 18, 2015.) Why did it take so long to arrest Hammes? After the FBI had questioned him in 2009 about the theft, he left his family and life, and began hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT).

According to a July 1, 2015, SB Nation article by William Browning, Hammes hiked the AT for six years with the moniker, “Bismarck.” Nobody suspected this friendly man with a bushy beard had embezzled millions from his employer. (See A Long Walk’s End, by Browning.)

The end of the trail

In May 2015, more than six years after Hammes was indicted, a hiker — who had met Hammes on the AT — recognized Hammes from his mug shot on the CNBC series “American Greed” and tipped off the FBI. After investigating, the FBI found Hammes at the Montgomery Homestead Inn in Damascus, Virginia — adjacent to the AT — during the annual Trail Days festival. According to the inn’s manager, Hammes was a frequent visitor. At his arrest, according to federal court records, he was carrying $11,854, a gold ring, 12 gift cards worth $3,604.87, plus two laptops, thumb drives and cellphones. He’d also been using the stolen identity of a G&J employee.


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