Visit Dothan President and CEO Aaron McCreight was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for his role in defrauding a bank while employed in a similar position in Iowa in 2018.

According to the Department of Justice, McCreight pleaded guilty in January to one count of bank fraud in an attempt to fund an unsuccessful "music and cultural festival" called Newbo Evolve featuring Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson in the summer of 2018 when McCreight served as president & CEO of Go Cedar Rapids (GoCR)

William White, a Birmingham-based attorney representing McCreight, said in an interview with 1819 News on Thursday that “we felt like we got a fair hearing” from U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa Judge C.J. Williams.

“He agreed with many of our arguments that we put forth,” White said. “We did request home confinement rather than incarceration, but he did give us a sentence significantly below sentencing guidelines, and for that we’re grateful.”

Cliff Mendheim, an attorney for Visit Dothan, said in a statement to WTVY that “the Board of Directors of Visit Dothan has accepted the resignation of Aaron McCreight as its President and CEO effective immediately.” 

“The Board appreciates the job that Aaron has done during his tenure here in Dothan,” Mendheim said in the statement. “Aaron passionately and effectively lifted Visit Dothan to be the catalyst for visitor and sports growth in our area and instituted many positive initiatives. As a result, our organization and our community benefited tremendously from his work, dedication, integrity, and collaborative community support.”

The Dothan tourism agency hired McCreight in early 2019.

Doug Hargrave, finance director of GoCR, also pleaded guilty last year to one count of bank fraud. 

According to the Department of Justice, as the Newbo Evolve event dates approached in 2018, GoCR did not have enough money to pay Kelly Clarkson and buy the alcohol that was to be sold at the concert venue. 

Hargrave and McCreight admitted that they defrauded the financial institution that had extended a loan to GoCR to finance Newbo Evolve by misrepresenting ticket sales, projected revenue, projected expenses and the correct amount of loss they were projecting. According to the Department of Justice, they did this to fraudulently induce the bank to loan GoCR additional money to support Newbo Evolve.  

The project ended up losing $2.3 million. GoCR's board fired McCreight shortly thereafter in Aug. 2018, according to the Des Moines Register.

"Not enough folks came," McCreight told WTVY in March 2019 after he was hired by the Visit Dothan Board of Directors for his new role. "We put on a great show, and people who did come had a great time, but, at the end of the day, there weren't enough sales to make [the festival] break even."

Visit Dothan is funded, in part, through the city’s lodging tax.

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