Four people were sentenced in Federal Court Monday in Portland for money-laundering. From 1996-2000 an offshore bank called the First International Bank of Grenada duped thousands of people out of their hard-earned money.
It was a classic Ponzi Scheme. As Andrew Theen reports, the scheme operated abroad and defrauded investors across the country.
The indictment lists the estimated monetary loss from “investors” at over $170 million. All four defendants avoided a trial by pleading guilty.
Robert Skirving received the stiffest sentence of 8 years for his role as the so-called director of the banks. 74-year-old Douglas Ferguson was the financial brain of the operation, and he received just over 4 years.
Larry Barnabe, a Canadian was the marketing guru. He orchestrated what some victims termed a well-organized presentation in Grenada to lure investors. He agreed to a 6-year sentence.
The fourth defendant Rita Regale cooperated with authorities and earned a reduced sentence of 18 months. Her attorney Phil Lewis argued successfully that while Regale was technically the Chief Financial Officer, she didn't fully grasp the scope of her actions.
Rod Ballart, one of the victims, went to one of the seminars on the small Caribbean island nation. Ballart, who is from Ohio, came away impressed by the presentation, designed by Barnabe. Ballart lost $400,000.
Rod Ballart: “It seemed very, very real. The people that you dealt with were so sincere and so real that it was hard to not believe that this was a good investment and yes it was something that was occuring that was different than the normal stock market.”
Many victims like Ballart lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement funds. Victims called in to share their stories from New York, Ohio and Kentucky. Many agreed the money wasn't the issue, but that they felt violated. Some shared stories of psychological and health issues stemming from the trauma of losing their life savings.
With frequent name-dropping of far-flung locales like Grenada and Uganda why try the case here in Oregon?
Claire Fay is the United States District Attorney handling the case.
Claire Fay: “One off the banks that they used was in Oregon. It was in Forest Grove. And they had asked friends of theirs if they could use their bank account to pass money from the scheme through Oregon. So about $54 million of the scheme came through Oregon at some point.”
Prosecutors say thanks to years of collaborative efforts between the FBI and IRS the case is finally over almost a decade later. All four defendants will surrender on October 11th.