James Berghuis, 42, Sacramento, California, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for orchestrating a Ponzi scheme in the Sacramento area that defrauded family members, friends, and other acquaintances of more than $2.7 million.
On October 18, 2013, a jury convicted Berghuis of four counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering. According to evidence presented at trial, between 2005 and 2008, Berghuis convinced certain investors to take out home‑equity loans to make their investments. Berghuis promised these investors he would use their money to invest in hard-money loans, real estate transactions, or the purchase of real estate franchises. He also offered several victims a deed of trust on his commercial property, promising each that they would be in second position on the title.
In fact, Berghuis used investors’ money to pay back other investors and to buy 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. Some victims lost their homes or continue to pay on mortgages they took out to make their investments with Berghuis.
In sentencing Berghuis to 14 years in prison, United States District Judge William B. Shubb commented that Berghuis preyed upon his family, friends and others and that they continue to suffer the consequences. Judge Shubb stated that Berghuis had “no conscience” and that rather than the giver Berghuis claimed to be, he was a “taker.” Judge Shubb explained that there was a need to deter Berghuis and others like him from perpetrating similar fraud schemes.
United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced the sentence.
This case was the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Todd A. Pickles prosecuted the case.
“Ponzi schemes like this one are devastating to the victims, and prosecuting the perpetrators of such schemes 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.”
“This is a case about lying, cheating, and stealing,” Acting IRS CI Special Agent in Charge Thomas McMahon said. “In a three-year period, Berghuis defrauded family, friends and trusting investors out of millions of dollars. Today‘s sentence reflects the seriousness of the crimes, promotes respect for the law and provides just punishment.”
“Today’s sentence should send a message to both investors and the criminals who often prey upon the victims. Berghuis’ victims lost homes and savings to an elaborate Ponzi scheme disguised as an investment opportunity,” said Special Agent in Charge Monica Miller of the Sacramento FBI. “The FBI continues to work with our law enforcement and business partners to identify and investigate fraudsters whose greed-based schemes rob individuals of their hard-earned savings and assets.”