TAMPA — The ex-president of the now-defunct Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce caught a break last week in federal Judge Charlene Honeywell’s courtroom when his sentencing hearing for stealing more than $100,000 in chamber funds was abruptly cut short and rescheduled for Feb. 3.
That means David Lee Gainer Jr., who pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud in June, will have another five months or so of freedom with his family in Lutz. Then, under federal sentencing guidelines, Judge Honeywell could order Gainer, 51, to spend up to 60 years in federal prison. Under the court’s guideline calculations, Gainer scores an advisory imprisonment range of 18 to 24 months.
Gainer and his entourage of 10 friends and family members quickly left Tampa’s federal courthouse on Thursday after Judge Honeywell announced that the court could not proceed with his sentencing, leaving behind the handful of confused and frustrated Pasco Chamber members who came ready to see the 4-year-long legal battle finally come to an end.
The hold up, though, is largely in the hands of the merchant’s association, according to the court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Guzman tried to explain to the chamber members that before Judge Honeywell can pass down a sentence, the U.S. government needs to know who would receive restitution Gainer manages to pay back. Leadership from the former Central Pasco Chamber argue that the money should go to them even though the organization no longer exists.
In 2019, the merchants and small business owners of the West Pasco Chamber agreed to merge with the struggling Central Pasco Chamber after Gainer’s departure, forming a supergroup of roughly 200 businesses called the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
Along with absorbing members, the group also agreed to absorb debts, Greater Pasco Chamber President Tim McClain said — debts that should be repaid with Gainer’s restitution.
Tensions mounted as chamber leaders new and old heard the news on Thursday, and any attempts to settle the issue in the court lobby were quickly dashed as polite conversations morphed into hushed, harsh bickering and hasty exits. It’s unclear what the old chamber members would do with the restitution money if they received it.
In a sentencing memorandum filed with the court ahead of Thursday’s hearing, defense attorney Fritz Scheller made the case for Gainer to be granted a one-day sentence of “time served” followed by a term of supervised release and house arrest.
Key to that request is Gainer’s promise to pay back the $104,689 the U.S. Department of Justice determined were “fraudulently misappropriated” during his tenure.
Gainer was not only president but also treasurer of the Central Pasco Chamber when he began withdrawing money and writing checks to himself to pay off bills and personal debts between July 2015 and August 2018 — around the time he vacated from the role.
In his memorandum, though, Gainer’s attorney describes him as a devoted family man motivated by desperate financial need instead of greed.
Before he was hired by the chamber, both Gainer and his wife lost their jobs at the end of 2013, Scheller wrote, and even though she managed to find a new job with a smaller salary in 2014 the family was forced to declare bankruptcy as he struggled to find employment.
“Mr. Gainer began to take money from the Chamber to pay the family’s debts and, although he initially and covertly made payments back to the chamber, his debt increased until he was caught,” Scheller wrote.
Now, he is a man “haunted by remorse,” Scheller’s memorandum said. Nonetheless, both he and his wife have managed to find new jobs and “after years of struggling, he has finally gained financial stability.”
Although Gainer has agreed to forfeit any assets needed to pay off his restitution, his attorney argues that a lengthy jail sentence would “severely impact” his ability to pay back his debts. Another concern, Sheller said, is whether Gainer could receive adequate medical care in prison. He underwent surgery in November 2021 after being diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer and is still receiving treatments such as physical therapy and aftercare.
But despite the arguments for leniency laid out in Scheller’s 25-page memorandum — and despite the 17 reference letters Judge Honeywell received from Gainer’s children, father and friends attesting to his character and involvement in the community — the court also must consider his criminal history.
In 2006, federal court records show Gainer was found guilty on 14 charges, including 11 counts of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of “conspiracy to commit bank fraud as an employee of a federally insured bank through solicitation, demand and acceptance of commissions or gifts for procuring loans” and another count of “receipt of commissions or gifts for procuring loans as an employee of a financial institution.”
He was given concurrent prison sentences of 46 months on each count and ordered to pay back $356,030 in restitution.
His father, Gainer Sr., was also involved in the scheme, court records show, and was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and seven counts of bank fraud. He received 21-month concurrent sentences.