Attorney: USA Harvest founder not competent to enter plea


by AP/WHAS11

Posted on December 20, 2012 at 5:45 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 20 at 7:44 PM

(AP) -- An expected guilty plea by the founder of USA Harvest was delayed Thursday after a defense attorney raised questions about his client's competence to understand the legal proceedings.

Louisville attorney Scott Cox told a federal judge in Louisville that 63-year-old Hugh "Stan" Curtis has been in poor health since being charged in September with taking $183,354 from the charity and charging another $370,000 in personal travel expenses. During a brief hearing, Cox said Curtis has appeared disoriented and confused over the last few days.

"I don't think he's competent to change his plea," Cox said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin rescheduled a change of plea hearing for Curtis for Jan. 31. It marks at least the second delay for such a hearing in the case. Prosecutors did not object to delaying the hearing.

Curtis appeared in court in a dark suit and in a wheelchair. He spent much of the hearing silently looking around the room and left the courthouse without speaking.

Since being indicted the former pro athlete and investment banker has suffered from an undisclosed illness and he’s lost nearly 100 lbs.

Curtis, who founded the organization in 1989 as Kentucky Harvest of Louisville, faces charges of mail fraud, money laundering and filing false income tax returns. He founded the organization in 1989 as Kentucky Harvest of Louisville. None of the charities Curtis has been associated with were implicated in any wrongdoing.

USA Harvest uses volunteers to pick up surplus food from restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and various other food suppliers and deliver it to missions, soup kitchens, shelters and people in need.

A group of more than a dozen people affiliated with one of those charities, Wayside Christian Mission in Louisville, filed into the courtroom in a show of support for Curtis. Nina Moseley, CEO of Wayside Christian Mission, said Curtis spent much of his time and own resources helping others.

“I feel for him. I feel for him to have to be going through this along with the medical issues that he's facing. He's been a good man and I think there’s a lot more to this story than what we hear in the news,” said Moseley.

Moseley said she believes Curtis is innocent, but willing to plead guilty because he's being forced to by the legal system. "Oh, yes," Moseley said after the hearing. "At most, maybe he didn't have the best record-keeping."

The group's efforts have drawn assistance from the rock band Goo Goo Dolls, who used to pick up food in their concerts in benefit of the organization and actress Scarlett Johansson, whose photo is featured on the organization's web site.

According to the information filed in a Louisville federal court, from September 2005 through September 2007, Curtis failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service about $553,891.67 in personal income he received from USA Harvest. The amount includes the $183,354 in stolen donations and $370,537.67 in personal travel expenses that he charged to USA Harvest.

Prosecutors say Curtis used the $370,537.67 in USA Harvest funds to pay for personal meals, personal entertainment expenses, and personal travel. In addition, prosecutors say, Curtis fraudulently deducted approximately $353,165 in unreimbursed USA Harvest travel expenses on his 2005 through 2007 returns.

On the website of USA Harvest, Curtis said the charity serves more than 5,400 agencies nationwide.