Former airport manager gets prison for embezzlement

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 08:34 AM

The former administrator of Foothills Regional Airport was sentenced Tuesday to 37 months in federal prison plus three years on probation for his involvement in embezzling and money laundering at the airport from 2009 to 2012.

Alex Nelson, 50, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in September 2012 to counts of public corruption conspiracy, embezzlement and money laundering. Nelson was also sentenced Tuesday to reimburse $129,783.51 to the Foothills Regional Airport Authority and $50,000 to the North Carolina League of Municipalities. He also may be liable for additional restitution when two co-defendants are sentenced, the judge said.

Nelson was not taken into custody after the hearing but will be allowed to turn himself in to begin his prison sentence.

Jack Stewart, Nelson's attorney, argued for a reduced sentence, saying that Nelson is a lifelong resident of Caldwell County, had no experience in administrative or financial affairs, relied heavily on advice from other people, had no criminal record and provides for three dependants.

Nelson “got involved in something greater than himself, but became part of the problem and not the solution,” Stewart said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Meyers argued that Nelson’s actions showed a “high degree of deception and concealment,” and the case was “not simply a one-way scheme.”

Meyers said a sentence was needed that would deter others from committing similar crimes.

Nelson declined to comment on the sentencing after the hearing. In court he said, “There are not words for me to explain how much I regret” what happened. “I am very sorry. I accept full responsibility as the manager of the airport.”

Judge Martin Reidinger said that Nelson was placed in a position of public trust in charge of taxpayer funds and abused that trust, and though some of the abuse may have been due to ignorance, some was done “knowingly and intentionally, and that sort of abuse has to be deterred, not just for this defendant, but for others.”

Nelson's two co-defendants, former airport authority board member Randy Hullette and former airport operations manager Brad Adkins, have pleaded guilty to similar charges but have yet to be sentenced. Adkins’ sentencing hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday, after Nelson’s, but was postponed. Adkins recently had his bond revoked after he was found with urine taped to his body when he went for a drug test, the Hickory Daily Recorded reported. He has been held in the McDowell County Jail since his bond was revoked.