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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Louis F. Harrelson, once one of Charlotte's best-known car dealers, won't be going to prison Tuesday after his sentencing for aiding in the filing of false auto-loan applications with financial institutions.

But the 80-year-old former Marine will have to shell out a lot of cash.

Harrelson cut a deal with federal prosecutors for two years of probation, a $50,000 fine and up to $1.19 million in restitution.

Defense attorney Pete Anderson told the Observer he expects U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney to order Harrelson to pay nearly $1 million in restitution.

We are relieved that we were able to negotiate a plea where Mr. Harrelson avoided any active prison time, and no charges were brought against any of the dealerships..., Anderson said Saturday.

Considering all of the costs and restitution to be paid that arose from this investigation, and Mr. Harrelson's relatively low culpability, his punishment is more than sufficient.

When Harrelson pleaded guilty in January 2009, Whitney said the punishment in the plea deal would be a deterrent to crime in Charlotte's business community.

Mr. Harrelson is going to be removed from the management of the business that he gave birth to and raised and was quite successful in, the judge said. The court is convinced without a doubt that Mr. Harrelson has done the right thing after he had done the wrong thing.

Under the agreement, Harrelson must resign from all management positions in the auto-sales industry, and he's prohibited from appearing at any of the dealerships owned by him or his family during the term of his sentence.

During his plea hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Brown told the judge that Harrelson had approved of his employees' use of what were called house rebates, which were falsely characterized on loan applications as down payments by customers.

Harrelson also had been made aware of other fraudulent activities at his dealerships, the prosecutor said.

Brown told the judge that Harrelson's help in the investigation, and his firing of employees who committed crimes, played roles in the government's agreeing to a deal.

The prosecutor also said there would have been risks in going to trial. He described Harrelson as a well-respected and successful businessman and said he would be 80 or 81 at the time of a trial. Even had prosecutors proven his guilt, the prosecutor said, jurors could ignore the law and acquit Harrelson out of sympathy.

Anderson told the judge that Harrelson, a former University of South Carolina football player and Marine Corps veteran, had a serious heart condition and had part of his lung removed because of cancer.

The defense lawyer said Harrelson has been punished plenty since FBI agents raided some of his dealerships in 2005. News accounts of the raid and the continuing government investigation hurt his client's business, he said.

He's lost millions and millions of dollars, Anderson said.

On Saturday, Anderson said: Based on many corrective measures that Mr. Harrelson approved after the initial FBI search, we were disappointed that the government insisted on charging Mr. Harrelson with a felony.

However, he said his client has accepted full responsibility.

After five years, Mr. Harrelson is relieved that this matter will finally be over.


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