John Anthony Miller made promises to clients of his Newport Beach-based investment companies, JAM Jr. Enterprises and Forte Financial Partners, of "guaranteed" annual returns of as much as 18 percent per year, telling investors that their money would be invested in foreign currency trading, oil wells, real estate and other vehicles.
After hearing from 15 victims who described the ramifications of losing their life savings, United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder sentenced the 52-year-old San Clemente man to more than 13 years in prison for operating a Ponzi scheme in which victims lost more than $21 million.
Miller pleaded guilty last March to a mail fraud count related to the Ponzi scheme he operated from 2000 through November 2008, as well as bribery, passport fraud, and identity fraud charges resulting from his attempt to procure a fraudulent passport and flee the country after his scheme collapsed.
According to a statement from the FBI:
* During the course of the scheme, Miller provided investors with monthly account statements that falsely represented they were earning the promised returns. In fact, Miller had never earned any real profits from his investment activity and, in the pattern of a typical Ponzi scheme, used money from some investors to make Ponzi payments to other investors.
* Over the course of his scheme, Miller defrauded more than 130 people out of more than $21 million, taking millions of dollars that some victims withdrew from IRA retirement savings accounts and others borrowed against their homes.
* Prosecutors read Snyder portions of letters from victims. A husband and wife, one of whom was suffering from colon cancer, lost more than $800,000. Now in bankruptcy and suffering from regular nightmares, they wrote: "They say time heals all wounds, but not in this case. The impact on our lives has been like a cancer growing and festering and has caused irreparable and unrecoverable damage to our lives, not just financially but emotionally and physically." They added: "Miller raped us of our money, our dignity, and any hope of a decent future."
* In sentencing papers, the feds labeled Miller "amongst the most egregious of any investment fraudster or Ponzi schemer this Court will ever see. He didn't just solicit fraudulent investments through mailings or mass marketing, like many fraudsters do. He didn't just interact with victims over the telephone or at investment seminars, like many others. [Miller] lied to people in person, up close, sitting in their living rooms or at their kitchen tables, knowing full well the vulnerability of his victims and the inevitable devastation his deceit would cause them."
* The mail fraud charge stems from a Sept. 26, 2008 letter Miller sent to investors in which he falsely stated that investments made with him were performing well despite the economic downturn, and that his companies had more than $150 million in assets and only approximately $30 million in liabilities. In reality, at that point Miller and his investment companies were nearly out of money, his fraud scheme was collapsing, and he was considering fleeing the country.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
* Miller was taken into custody in November 2008 as he was preparing to leave the U.S. The month before, Miller told a former associate that he wanted to obtain a fraudulent passport under a false name that he could use to flee the country. Miller and the former associate discussed the countries that they thought would be best to flee to, including those that did not have extradition treaties with the U.S.
His escape plan unraveled on Nov. 12, 2008, during a meeting Miller had at the Federal Building in Westwood with who he believed was a corrupt passport officer. Actually, it was an undercover State Department agent whom Miller paid a $5,000 bribe to secure a bogus passport that was to be in the name of a former high school classmate who had recently died.
Miller had scraped up the $5,000 from money he collected in the Ponzi scheme.
After completing a fraudulent passport application in the name of his deceased high school classmate and handing the undercover agent $5,000 in cash, Miller was arrested by FBI agents.