When FBI agents entered an upscale Irvine condo building unit in May 2016 to execute a search warrant on a suspected con man, they found 10 computers, partially eaten breakfast, a television broadcasting a show and an open sliding-glass door to the fifth-floor balcony.
Rawle Gerard Suite, the target, had heard the agents announce their arrival at his front door, panicked, fled to the building’s roof, raced down a fire escape ladder and went into hiding before his capture.
This week inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, Suite, who’d hoped he get punishment of no more than 27 months in prison for swindling $1.5 million from duped investors seeking high-yield returns, received a term of 121 months.
But the businessman with a history of fraudulent activities that spans a decade is appealing his conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Suite claims undercover FBI agents out of the Santa Ana field office employed illegal entrapment tactics, targeted him because he is black, ignored white co-conspirators, fabricated evidence and inflated the victims’ losses by at least double. He also denies using an alias to lull investors into giving him money.
However, according to FBI Special Agent B. Craig Mason, Suite told investors his name was “Jerry Snead,” a moniker, if Googled, wouldn’t at the time reveal the swindler’s past shenanigans. His pitches that guaranteed at least 60 percent or greater returns on investments and assurances he’d never experienced a single month of losses should have triggered alarm. But during a phone call with one victim Suite, who was born in 1960 and is a grandfather, tried to downplay concerns by declaring he could produce monthly statements proving remarkable profits. He didn’t know Mason was listening too.
Confiscated records show Suite got his clients to sign “accredited risk disclosure” documents before repeatedly losing tens of thousands of dollars in bad investments and converting substantial sums to pay personal expenses for dining and entertainment.
In June 2017, he pleaded guilty to a four-count federal indictment but has spent the last year arguing he was “intimidated” into the confession. He also says he should be given credit for his “voluntary cessation of criminal activity [in 2015] long before” his arrest and, alternatively, that he’s innocent because he believed his actions were legitimate. At other times he has stated he “played a limited role” in the fraud.
“Mr. Suite did not plan this offense,” Suite wrote about himself to U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna in a March filing. “Suite was prejudiced with a selective enforcement [because of his race].”
To bolster his cries of racism, he noted that FBI agents arrested him after jumping “out of bushes without proper FBI attire causing” him in a “panic” to “run 30-40 yards in 6 seconds” and “self-surrender.”
Selna rejected Suite’s complaints at the June 4 hearing and imposed the 10-year prison sentence.
R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.