After a six-week trial shined a harsh light on what prosecutors called “fraud” and a “Ponzi scheme posing as a thriving finance company,” three former executives at an Oregon-based investment firm are headed to federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon sentenced three former executives at Aequitas Capital Management to prison terms totaling more than 20 years. Prosecutors had pushed for more, recommending “prison terms exceeding any previously imposed in this district for a fraud scheme,” reads the sentencing document from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon.
Former Aequitas CEO Robert J. Jesenik was given the heaviest sentence: 14 years, plus a financial forfeiture of more than $1.5 million. Simon sentenced Executive Vice President Andrew N. MacRitchie to 70 months and ordered him to pay more than $689,000. And Brian K. Rice, an executive vice president who joined the firm more recently, was sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to forfeit over $116,000.
Earlier this week, the three men were found guilty of conspiring with each other to commit mail and wire fraud, in addition to 28 individual counts of wire fraud. Jesenik was also convicted of falsifying a loan application.
In an often pointed 114-page sentencing document, prosecutors Ryan Bounds, Christopher Cardani and Siddharth Dadhich said lengthy sentences for the top executives at the former Lake Oswego firm are warranted, arguing: “There is no doubt that [the defendants] ruined countless lives, and… [their] crimes took an incalculable toll on many families.”
The sentencing document walks through multiple examples of the impact on defrauded investors. A visually-impaired 87 year-old man described as the firm’s largest individual investor was forced to continue working after losing his retirement savings — and that of his employees — to the fraud. Prosecutors tell of a married couple who lost $600,000 and had to defer their retirement. Others spoke of significant financial losses and mental health impacts, from inability to eat and sleep, to contemplation of suicide.
In arguments made during the trial, defense attorneys for the Aequitas executives said investors were given enough information to be aware of the financial risks they were taking, as reported by the Portland Business Journal at the time.
The U.S. Attorney’s office estimates Aequitas defrauded hundreds of investors a total of nearly $300 million. The forfeiture amounts ordered by the judge represent “monies the defendants received out of the proceeds of their scheme.” Simon said he would rule on restitution at a later date. The U.S. Attorney’s Office estimates that at $368 million.
Aequitas’ problems originated nearly a decade to the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a network of for-profit colleges that drew intense scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education and investigation from then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Corinthian was one of Aequitas’ major investors, and its financial problems cost Aequitas more than $4 million a month starting in 2014, according to federal prosecutors. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said that led the firm’s leaders to commit “numerous financial crimes in an effort to conceal Aequitas’ bleak financial picture.”
In a recorded statement responding to the judge’s decision Thursday, Ethan Knight, the chief of the economic crimes unit for the Oregon U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the historic sentences for the Aequitas executives should send a message to anyone in a position to deceive investors.
“The sentences imposed today reflect the seriousness of these crimes and should serve as a warning to other executives or financial professionals contemplating fraud as a viable path to wealth.”