DENVER – A federal judge has delayed sentencing for William Ballantine, a former board member of the company that owns The Durango Herald, until Oct. 24.
Ballantine pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion, and his lawyer has asked U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel for a sentence to a halfway house and probation. Federal guidelines call for a sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison, and prosecutors oppose the defense call for a reduced sentence.
Ballantine’s sentencing hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday. Daniel did not say why he delayed it.
Ballantine originally was charged with 16 felony counts, including mail fraud, money laundering and tax evasion, for taking money from his charitable foundation and using it for personal expenses. In exchange for his guilty plea to tax evasion, prosecutors will drop the other 15 charges.
Ballantine admitted to using St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Durango as a pass-through to get access to $360,000 from his foundation, which was administered by the National Philanthropic Trust. Ballantine told a church leader that he was setting up a charity for children in Antigua but needed the church’s help because his paperwork was not ready.
In a legal brief, Ballantine’s lawyer, John Lundquist, argued that a prison sentence of up to two years was too much. Ballantine “has led an exemplary life that, with the lone exception of the bad conduct admitted here, has been characterized by a high degree of duty, honor and charity,” Lundquist wrote.
He is a decorated combat veteran who volunteered for two tours of duty with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, and he supports several charities in Southwest Colorado and Kirkland, Wash., where he lives, Lundquist wrote.
Ballantine’s sisters and other people wrote letters of support to Daniel, asking for a lenient sentence.
His sister Helen Ballantine Healy wrote that her brother has always been generous, from his boyhood days when he befriended a poor child in Durango to adulthood, when he helped start charities for people on the islands of Antigua and Barbuda.
Ballantine Healy portrayed her brother as “a bit of a misguided Robin Hood” who got himself into trouble because he is not good with money.
But prosecutor Todd Norvell argued in a legal brief that it was not a one-time mistake, and he supported a report from the probation office that called for a 21-month sentence.
“The defendant engaged in this criminal conduct for over a year. The defendant took numerous calculated steps in an attempt to hide his felonious behavior,” the report said.
The judge is likely to hear oral arguments from both sides at the Oct. 24 hearing in Denver.