James G. Berghius, 41, Sacramento, California, was convicted by a federal jury after a three day trial of four counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering related to a Ponzi scheme that he operated.
According to evidence presented at trial, between 2005 and 2007, Berghuis orchestrated a Ponzi scheme in the Sacramento area defrauding family members, friends, and other acquaintances of more than $2.5 million. Berghuis convinced some investors to take out home-equity loans to make their investments. Berghuis promised investors that he would use their money to invest in hard-money loans, real estate transactions, or the purchase of real estate franchises. He also offered to several victims a deed of trust on his commercial property, promising each that they would be in second position on the title.
Instead, Berghuis used investors’ money to pay back other investors and for buying himself luxury goods, including several Mercedes Benz cars. Berghuis purchased a top of the line S65 Mercedes Benz worth more than $200,000 by signing over a check that he had received from an investor earlier the same day. He then made a series of excuses to the investors as to why he could not pay them back on the promised dates.
Berghuis was remanded into custody following the jury verdict and is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge William B. Shubb on January 13, 2014. Berghuis faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison for mail fraud and wire fraud and 10 years in prison for money laundering. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Sacramento FBI Special Agent in Charge Monica M. Miller, and Special Agent in Charge IRS-Criminal Investigation José M. Martínez announced the conviction.
“Ponzi schemes like this one are devastating to the victims, and prosecuting perpetrators is one of our highest priorities,” U.S. Attorney Wagner said. “This office will continue to work closely with the FBI and IRS CI to root out fraudsters, and hold them accountable for their actions.”
“Berghius enjoyed a lavish lifestyle at the expense of unsuspecting investors. His actions serve as an example of the unconscionable greed that fuels fraud cases,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Miller said. “Fraud remains a top priority for the FBI and the public should reach out to us when they encounter such schemes. The losses directly impact fraud victims but these crimes also have an indirect yet lasting negative impact on the community’s prosperity as well.”
“Promoters of Ponzi schemes prey upon trusting investors and then steal their hard earned money,” IRS CI Special Agent in Charge Martínez said. “IRS CI is committed to identifying and investigating those who take advantage and impact the financial well-being of others for their own personal financial benefit.”
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the IRS-Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorneys Todd Pickles and Richard Elias are prosecuting the case.