Premier Properties founder gets home detention for fraud

November 18, 2009

A judge on Wednesday afternoon sentenced Christopher P. White to one year on home detention and three years of probation in connection with a $500,000 bad check he wrote last year as he tried to save his real estate development firm, Premier Properties USA Inc.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Robert Altice also ordered White to pay $382,000 in restitution to The National Bank of Indianapolis during a sentencing hearing, and said he would consider shortening the term of probation if White can reimburse the bank for its losses.

A jury in August found White guilty of three Class C felonies, but Altice merged the charges into one count of fraud on a financial institution. White did not testify at the hearing.

Altice said he opted for leniency since White has no prior criminal convictions and did not write the bad check out of greed. Rather, he used it to make payroll as financial and legal troubles were brewing for the company he founded. The check, deposited to an account at The National Bank of Indianapolis, was drawn on an account at JP Morgan Chase with a balance of less than $1,000.

Prosecutors asked the judge for a four-year prison sentence, saying White essentially robbed the bank, using trust instead of fear. George Keely, a bank executive, testified that the bank also lost money on a home-equity line of credit with White.

Defense attorney Luther Garcia pointed out that the bank's relationship with White and Premier Properties, the developer of the Metropolis shopping center in Plainfield, had been plenty lucrative for the bank over the years. He said NBI earned $950,000 on a business line of credit in 2007 alone.

The judge sympathized with the point, adding that the bank had given White breathing room before he wrote the bad check, and even after he wrote it, based on his word.

"Mr. White made them a lot of money over the years," Altice said.

Altice said he received several letters from friends and former associates attesting to White's character. His longtime attorney, Bruce Smith, took the stand Wednesday to do the same.

He said White, 52, who was worth $150 million when Indianapolis-based Premier was thriving just a few years ago, has since lost all of his equity in projects, is in the process of losing the second of two homes, and has filed for personal bankruptcy.

White has been getting by with help from his brother and parents, and is trying to find a way to claw back into the real estate business, Smith said. He declined to discuss the hearing's outcome with a reporter.

"He's basically lost everything," said Smith, who most recently served as Premier's general counsel.

Premier built a reputation for taking on daring projects with little margin for error, but when credit markets tightened, troubles quickly mounted. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2008. A month later, a judge converted the case to Chapter 7 and ordered the company to be liquidated.


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