Sentencing bids paint Knox fashion designer as con man, flawed entrepreneur – Knoxville News Sentinel

By Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel


Knoxville fashion designer Marcus Hall is either a criminal whose redemption story is cut from whole cloth, or a man for whom crime was merely a thread in the overall tapestry of his entrepreneurship and good works.

In the run-up to the June sentencing of Hall for his role as operator and profiteer in a $20 million gambling operation in Knoxville’s inner city, the prosecution and defense are designing two disparate wardrobes with which to clothe him, federal court records show.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kolman seeks in her sentencing memorandum to strip Hall of the embellishments of fame and accolades. Hall, she says, is nothing more than a lifelong criminal who ran a con on the fashion world and the Knoxville community.

“(Hall) has taken great pains to project a public persona that focuses on his status as a minority business owner with a passion for community involvement but leaves out all of the unfavorable facts,” Kolman wrote. “This court should look past (his) attempts to protect his fabricated public image.”

Defense attorney Robert Kurtz, on the other hand, casts Hall’s criminality as an unfortunate thread in Hall’s quilt of good intention.

“Marcus Hall readily acknowledges his conduct in this case,” Kurtz wrote in his sentencing memorandum. “He used the proceeds from illegal gambling to keep his clothing business afloat. But more than that, Marcus Hall recognizes that he also misled his community … At the same time, however, Marcus accomplished some good things.”

Hall pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with two Lonsdale businessmen to operate a yearslong illegal numbers game in which participants placed bets on the daily winning numbers in the Illinois lottery. An IRS Criminal Investigation Division probe showed the gambling operation brought in $20 million until it was shut down last summer.

News of Hall’s role — and that he used his cut of the proceeds to fund his entrepreneurship as an inner-city real estate developer and founder of Marc Nelson Denim raw denim manufacturing firm on Depot Avenue — sent shock waves through the fashion world in New York and Atlanta and among Knoxville’s community service organizations, which had given Hall awards and seats on their boards.

Kolman contends Hall has long used the proceeds of crime to pay for the lifestyle of his dreams.

“This defendant’s career to date is one of crime,” she wrote. “In 1994, he started off simply enough with possession of marijuana and an assault of an officer when he shoved the officer and fled. In 1996, he pleaded guilty in this federal court to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and was sentenced to 30 months. Then in the early to mid-2000s, the defendant entered into his illegal gambling, “numbers game” and money laundering scheme which ran until June 8, 2015.”

Kurtz countered Hall began adulthood as a licensed barber and salon owner in Knoxville but succumbed to the temptation of “quick and easy money that he witnessed being made by his friends” dealing drugs. Upon release from prison, Hall tried his hand at acting in Los Angeles but couldn’t afford living there. He returned to Knoxville to work as a barber and was eyeing real estate development when his now-confessed gambling partner Clarence McDowell offered him another chance at easy money via gambling, Kurtz wrote.

Still, the defense attorney contends, Hall put “sweat equity” into his real estate ventures and fashion business. His mother, Kurtz said, taught Hall to sew as a child.

Kurtz is pushing for a sentence of one year and a day, with that extra day ensuring Hall can cut his sentence by 15 percent for good behavior. Kolman is pushing for a sentence on the high end of the 30- to 37-month penalty range.

Hall has agreed to forfeit four vehicles, 15 properties and $5 million. Marc Nelson Denim was not seized as part of his plea deal, and Hall has insisted the company remains a going concern.

Kurtz noted in his sentencing memorandum the business has lost half its clientele since Hall’s arrest



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