Bellefonte man sentenced after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $1.5 million

A crime both small and big businesses are victims of: embezzlement

Ever wonder what embezzlement is? This white collar crime is hurting businesses all over.
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Ever wonder what embezzlement is? This white collar crime is hurting businesses all over.

A former Bellefonte insurance agent was sentenced Friday to 17 years in prison and three years’ supervised release after he pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $1.5 million from dozens of individuals.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann also ordered Hocker to pay $1,495,782 in restitution.

James Hocker, 49, solicited funds from individuals throughout Centre County between 2009 and 2018 and guaranteed returns of at least 25%, though he never invested the money, according to the criminal information filed in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania.

Instead, Hocker built a life that revolved around gambling, drugs and prostitution, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Alisan Martin.

“(Hocker) took check upon check, staring into the faces of people who not only trusted him as a financial advisor, but cared for him as friend,” Martin wrote in her sentencing memo sent to U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann. “The government respectfully asks the court to see the defendant for the self-serving fraud that he is.”

In her 19-page memo, Martin also included stories from 22 individuals who were defrauded by Hocker.

Some spoke of marriages rife with distrust, while others discussed undermined travel plans, relying on Social Security and food stamps, using a space heater instead of a furnace and refusing to put up a Christmas tree out of fear that the lights would increase their electric bill.

“He took our money, but not my soul or character,” one woman said. “He stole a lot of little things we wanted to do with our life. I hope he pays for it and justice is done, not just for us, but for everyone else. … I can’t hate him. I have so much more to look forward to than him. I don’t like to use ‘destroyed,’ he had a big impact on people’s lives.”

Jeff McCloskey, of Bellefonte, speaking on behalf of his mother and son, who both had been defrauded by Hocker, said that while they were happy with the sentence, they were still sad for all the victims.

“Seventeen years is nice, but it doesn’t make up for all that was lost,” McCloskey said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

McCloskey’s mother, Bridgett McCloskey, had just retired and decided to invest with Hocker, when she was defrauded of $28,000.

“This was money people had saved for their golden years,” he said. “To lose it was devastating.”

Hocker, a long-term alcoholic and cocaine addict with severe addictions and mental health issues, has an “insightful and tragically sad” background, according to defense attorney Leonard Ambrose.

Hocker was raised in a home with rampant alcoholism and physical and sexual abuse, according to Ambrose.

“There is no question that this type of abusive childhood was one of the causative factors in James developing depression, insecurities, loneliness, and obsessive-compulsive disorders,” Ambrose wrote in his 33-page memo to Brann. “By the time James reached 18, he had spent his entire life in a house filled with alcoholism, physical abuse, insecurities, and nothing remotely close to a positive environment.”

He attempted to join the Navy in 1988, but was discharged one month later after being diagnosed with severe adjustment disorder. He eventually gained employment as an insurance agent in Mifflin County in 2001 before leaving to start his own agency in Bellefonte, Ambrose wrote.

Then, in 2009, Hocker morphed from being a daily alcoholic to a cocaine addict. He needed $500-$1,000 per day to purchase cocaine. That addiction drove him to defraud at least 42 individuals, Ambrose wrote.

“This is not a case where (Hocker) obtained the money and went out and bought expensive homes, yachts, airplanes, high-end clothes or anything like that,” Ambrose wrote. “Most of this money went up his nose or went down his throat in the form of cocaine mixed with heavy doses of alcohol.”

Hocker has been enrolled in Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous for biweekly counseling in Huntingdon County since May. He also opens many of the meetings and provides emotional support for various members, Ambrose wrote.

“James’ behavior is inexcusable,” Ambrose wrote. “The obvious answer is greed, but the explanations lie so much deeper.”

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.