Lexington, KY

Evading the FBI on the Appalachian Trail: James Hammes

Sara B

James Hammes spent five years evading the FBI and spent that entire time hiding out and hiking the Appalachian Trail. Yet who was James Hammes, and why was the FBI searching for him?

It was February 2009 when Hammes was called into headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. They had questions regarding fraudulent activity within the company, and Hammes was a respected controller for a family-owned bottling business. It was Hammes's responsibility to handle all of the vendor's accounts and payments. Hammes denied any knowledge of fraudulent activity.

Hammes, a 46-year-old husband, father, and resident of Lexington, Kentucky, disappeared that day after he left company headquarters. He was later charged with embezzling more than $8.7 million from his employer over 11 years.

FBI agents discovered proof inside his home of detailed fraudulent transactions; they also found that he was searching for ¨how to disappear¨. Hammes was on the run for six years and spent most of this time hiding, in plain sight, hiking the Appalachian Trail.

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile trek from Georgia to Maine, and he adapted a trail named ¨Bismark¨. He was well known and liked on the trail; however, as with many on the trail, no one knew his true identity, asked, or cared.

In the woods, he could create his own life story. Many people who hike this trail are searching for something; some are just on an adventure, usually a journey within.

Hammes was good with money; he supervised accounts payable to several vendors, which he used to his advantage. He established a new bank account for every existing vendor at a different bank and then deposited money to that vendor's account he had created. Hammes controlled this fake account and transferred money from the phantom account to his account.

"He knew how to cover his tracks by manipulating audits and ledger entries," Jones said. "He got away with it for so long because he knew how to manipulate his subordinates and how not to raise accounting red flags."

However, it eventually caught up to him when bank employees discovered canceled checks being returned from a bank they were unfamiliar with. The IRS also investigated Hammes for failing to file tax returns and investing much money in the stock market, which turned sour in 2008.

During his time on the run, his wife divorced him, and as it was, he remained hidden with contact only with those on the AT. Hammes was also unaware that his case made the TV show American Greed and America's Most Wanted.

This would be his downfall. During this time, it was 2014, and Bismark spent time with a hiker on the AT., and when this hiker returned home, he recognized Hammes on American Greed and called the FBI.

Hammes was arrested in May 2015 at the Montgomery Homestead Inn in Damascus, Virginia, and he pled guilty to wire fraud. He was sentenced to eight years and ordered to pay nearly 8 million in restitution.

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