DENVER – A former board member of The Durango Herald’s parent company will serve 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion.
William Ballantine, 63, received the sentence Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver. He was caught trying to get tax-free money from his own charitable foundation by laundering the payments through a Durango church.
Ballantine expressed deep remorse, and a number of family and friends on hand said they were shocked at the acts of a man they know as kind and generous.
“I am absolutely humiliated by what I have done. I am repentant and very, very sorry,” Ballantine said.
His lawyer, John Lundquist, had asked Chief U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel to ignore the guideline sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison and instead sentence Ballantine to community service.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Norvell argued for a stiff sentence.
“This is an extremely aggravated tax-evasion case,” Norvell said.
A grand jury originally indicted Ballantine on 16 counts, including fraud and money laundering. He pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion.
Ballantine directed $395,000 from his donor-advised charity fund at the National Philanthropic Trust to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Durango. He convinced the pastor to deposit $360,000 into Ballantine’s personal bank account, telling him it was for a new charity in Antigua.
Ballantine provided forged letters from a phony accountant to assure the pastor that everything was OK.
It was those fake letters that bothered the judge the most, despite letters and testimony from Ballantine’s family that he is generous with his time and attention – as well as money – to a variety of people and causes in Colorado and Washington.
“Just focusing on his wonderful contributions to the community, independent of the facts here, isn’t sufficient,” Daniel said. “This has affected the pastor and the church very profoundly.”
Ballantine used the money to fix up his cabin and help out friends. Daniel was puzzled about why Ballantine would commit crimes for such optional expenses, and the judge pressed him on his motives both at his guilty plea hearing and again Wednesday.
Ballantine said he knew he grew up in a great family, but he has always felt inadequate. It was one reason that he volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam.
“I still felt inadequacies – personal inadequacies – that had very, very little to do with anyone in my personal surroundings, but more to do with my inner core,” he said.
Ballantine resigned as a board member of Ballantine Communications after his indictment.
His brother, Durango Herald Publisher Richard Ballantine, was saddened after Wednesday’s hearing.
“Family certainly regrets that these events occurred. Bill has done a lot of good for the communities in which he lived and people he knows,” Richard Ballantine said.
William Ballantine has paid back all the money he took from the National Philanthropic Trust and has paid all the taxes he owed, Lundquist said.
He also must pay a $20,000 fine and serve up to three years on probation.