By DAN SEWELL
CINCINNATI (AP) — A change-of-plea hearing is scheduled Oct. 23 for an accountant who became a regular on the Appalachian Trail in the six years after he fled accusations that he embezzled $8.7 million.
James Hammes, 53, of Lexington, Ky., will appear before U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott. The trial had been scheduled to begin Tuesday in Cincinnati, but court documents first obtained by The Associated Press show a plea deal was reached.
No details have been released about the plea agreement, which is subject to court approval. Hammes had earlier pleaded not guilty on wire fraud and money laundering charges from 2009. Hammes’ attorney hasn’t responded to messages for comment.
The FBI arrested Hammes May 16 in Damascus, Va., during the annual “Trail Days” festival. People there say he was known as an outgoing, bushy-bearded hiker called “Bismarck” who had become a regular on the popular Georgia-to-Maine hiking trail.
The FBI said Hammes disappeared soon after being confronted in February 2009 about money missing from the beverage bottler he worked for. Authorities haven’t said what they think happened to the money or commented on his whereabouts the last six years.
Trail guidebook writer David Miller said Bismarck had a surprisingly high visibility, showing up in photos in hikers’ journals and on social media.
Hammes, a licensed pilot, had claimed a successful investment in a software company provided extra money for scuba diving trips to the Caribbean in the years before his indictment, according to former in-laws who were interviewed for an episode of the CNBC series “American Greed.” A fellow hiker has been credited with recognizing Bismarck from the show, leading to Hammes’ eventual arrest.
Hammes, a Milwaukee native, was the Lexington-based controller for the southern division of Cincinnati-based G&J Pepsi-Cola bottlers.