A gifted Southern California artist who participated in a multi-year con game that used Craigslist and newspaper ads to entice victims to send deposits for imaginary jobs and to rent imaginary vacation properties found himself on the good side of U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter this month.
After being caught by the U.S. Secret Service, Adam Ryan Witthoeft could have been sent to prison for several years for violating federal wire fraud laws, but he won a punishment of supervised probation for three years after a passionate plea for leniency by Beverly Hills defense attorney Jerry J. Kaufman.
The judge also ordered Witthoeft, who specializes in graffiti airbrush and mixed media, to pay restitution of $155,479.
It's not clear how much sway this point brought his client, but Kaufman advised the judge Witthoeft cooperated with Department of Homeland Security and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents investing an unrelated Orange County "front organization" laundering money to terrorists in Afghanistan.
Inside Santa Ana's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, the judge sealed huge portions of the case from public view.
Operating out of Irvine in the Craigslist scam, Witthoeft and others--including Quinny Thanh Nguyen, Kyle Isamu Hamatake, Nancy Marina Li and Marcus Joseph DeWitt--set up an elaborate crime that convinced people across the United States they would get $30-per-hour jobs (plus tips) driving escorts if they sent deposits, such as $300, through Moneygram in advance.
The swindlers performed the same trick on people seeking vacation rentals.
According to a Secret Service report reviewed by the Weekly, the con game stole more than $332,000 from male and female victims in Austin and Cedar Park, Texas; Laurel, Maryland; Aventura, Florida; Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; Astoria, New York; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Citrus Heights and San Jose.
In advance of his sentencing hearing, Witthoeft--who was born in 1981, is working in Costa Mesa and hopes to attend college in Long Beach--scored points by donating free art (a Mother Mary portrait) and composing free music for a Catholic Church.
Carter remarked from the bench that the defendant has undeniable artistic gifts.
Secret Service agents investigating www.theVIPgirls.com methodically unraveled the scam and the role of Witthoeft, who used an alias (Kevin Lnu) even with his co-conspirators and had trash bags filled with cash delivered to him at secret drop spots.
He was unawre that undercover federal agents were watching.
Assistant United States Attorney Daniel H. Anh originally recommended a 30-month prison trip for Witthoeft, who helped victimized more than 500 people.
Kaufman vouched for his client's remorse, saying he's "stepped forward as a man."
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"I'm sorry," the solemn defendant told the judge.
Court records show Witthoeft also used a third name, Kevin David.