A Pinellas judge erred by giving a businessman a break when he sentenced him to five years in prison for fraud and arson last year, an appeals court ruled this week.
Prosecutors had sought a prison term of more than 20 years for Richard P. Naylor, 62, who was accused of defrauding investors in his Clearwater helicopter business, then setting fire to his facility in 1998. Naylor pleaded no contest to 19 criminal charges, which required a minimum sentence of 11 years in prison.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Robert Beach strayed from guidelines and sentenced Naylor to five years. Beach justified the sentence by saying Naylor's chance to pay restitution outweighed the need for a long prison term.
Wednesday, the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland issued an opinion saying there was no evidence that restitution was more important than prison. The court said Naylor must be resentenced. Naylor had been scheduled for release in November 2009.