Orange County Republican insider, former Irvine planning commissioner and "Christian family man" David Richard Sparks will pray in a federal prison cell for the next 6 1/2 years. Over the recommendation of federal prosecutors, who sought 15 months less prison time for Sparks, a U.S. District Court judge on Monday handed down that penalty and ordered the repayment of $4.3 million the felon scammed from 34 friends, acquaintances and family members.
Technically, the maximum sentence is 20 years in the pen, but in exchange for Sparks pleading guilty to interstate wire fraud in June 2011, the prosecution asked that Judge Cormac J. Carney sentence him to just over 5 years. The judge also ordered Sparks to serve three years probation after his release from prison and to pay 10 percent of his future earnings to victims until the $4.3 million debt is repaid. Sparks must report to federal marshals no later than noon June 11 to start serving his prison time.
He was a longtime contributor to Orange County Republicans, having most recently donated to the 2010 campaigns of GOP assemblymen Don Wagner of Irvine and Allan Mansoor of Costa Mesa.
Saying he wanted to shake up the Irvine Planning Commission, City Councilman Steven Choi removed Adam Probolsky, a GOP political consultant and Orange County Register columnist, and appointed Sparks as the replacement in December 2008. Choi said at the time he was impressed by the real estate investor's Orange County Republican bona fides, and even Probolsky applauded his replacement.
Described as a Christian family man with a smooth, soothing Mr. Rogers-like voice, Sparks was also known to be successful in business with his Sparks Realty & Investment Inc. of Irvine, Wellington Grant Ltd. of Nevada and several other companies. But, based on complaints from investors, the FBI began investigating Sparks in January 2011, and he resigned from the Irvine Planning Commission a month later.
The investigation revealed that Sparks told investors he would use their funds to purchase, rehabilitate and re-sell homes in or nearly in foreclosure in Utah and California and split the profits with them. The only thing is, he didn't buy anything, using the investments to pay off his own debts.
When people started asking about their promised returns, Sparks forged bank documents, made up non-existent escrow companies and tossed out other phony reports of profits to try to cover his tracks. To hide what was actually a Ponzi scheme, Sparks did dribble out small payments to some investors, using the funds of new investors.
As these things always do, the scam crashed around Sparks. Many of those he ripped off told Carney they'd known and trusted Sparks for years, that they were mostly middle-class investors, and that he cost them their life savings, credit ratings, marriages and health. They weren't alone: while trying to hide the fraud, Sparks spent his, his wife's and his children's money, had a child out of wedlock and suffered marital problems, health issues and from alcoholism.
Not that his victims feel sorry for him.
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"I hope you rot in hell," one victim reportedly told Sparks in court Monday.
- David R. Sparks, Smooth-Talking GOP Liar and Real Estate Broker, Convicted of $4.3 Million Ponzi Scheme