Farrises avoid prison, apologize after theft conviction in court
Every seat was filled in the courtroom Thursday when Judge Denise Lynch told Charles “Zane” and Charla Farris they would have to complete probation, do community service and pay restitution — but would not receive not jail time.
The Farrises were sentenced Thursday afternoon for taking between $5,000 and $20,000 from the ranch they had managed for Waffle House, Inc. chairman Joe Rogers.
Judge Lynch sentenced each of the Farrises to five years supervised probation, 200 hours of community service, and to pay restitution in an amount to be determined later.
“The court can see how full the courtroom is,” Charla’s attorney Andrew Ho said.
He asked for those in the courtroom supporting Charla to stand, and more than 20 people stood up.
If he called all of them to give statements of character, “we could be here all afternoon,” Ho said.
“I’m not going to let you call all of them. I have a basketball game to watch at 6:30 (p.m.),” Judge Lynch joked.
Both Farrises were convicted of the theft of Bear Wallow Ranch funds in November, but the jury settled on a far lesser degree of theft than what prosecutors alleged.
After nearly six weeks of trial and three days of deliberation, the jury found the Farrises not guilty of the alleged theft of between $100,000 and $1 million, and exonerated them on multiple counts of cattle theft.
Prosecutor Ben Sollars, who asked for one to three years in prison for the Farrises, said Thursday that the theft was “not on a one-time basis, but more of a death by a thousand cuts,” and created a pattern of breach of trust.
“There are some aggravating factors that separate this out from other acts of theft,” Sollars said.
Judge Lynch disagreed, and said incarceration would not be appropriate.
“I think sending (Charla) to prison is just going to make her a worse human being. It will punish for sure, but I don’t think it’s going to rehabilitate at all,” Lynch said.
Rogers, who owned and kept Bear Wallow as a corporate retreat house for many years, attended the sentencing hearing. He has also sued the Farrises in civil court for the alleged losses.
The Farrises were sentenced separately, but each made a statement that they appreciated the time of the jury and judge in the case.
“I’m very sorry for the mistakes I have made, and I know that those mistakes led me here,” Charla Farris said.
“I apologize to anyone and everyone,” Zane Farris said.
During the trial, defense attorneys alluded to class distinctions, and that continued in the sentencing hearing.
In this case, “the word of one person with a lot of money and power obviously meant more than the word of one family” who was part of the community, Zane Farris’ defense attorney Kathy Goudy said.
Zane Farris was most relieved to be acquitted of the counts of stealing cattle, Goudy said, since he continues to work as a cattleman.
Monica Groom, an attorney who did not represent either of the Farrises, said in a statement to the court that Zane Farris and Charla Farris are beloved members of the community.
“These are two individuals who would do anything for you,” Groom said.
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