Ian Campbell Gent spent more than 40 trouble-free years in the financial industry, but he failed to use that expertise to stop a Ponzi scheme that ripped off 94 victims and depleted the life savings of some.
That was one of the factors in a decision Thursday by a federal judge to sentence Gent, 70, of Amherst, to eight years in federal prison for his role as the “second-in-command” of an investment scheme that a jury found was fraudulent and caused investor losses of $6.3 million.
“They're decimated personally, financially,” Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny said of the dozens of victims.
“Their savings are vanished,” the judge told Gent, “and I don't know if you feel that.”
Gent was convicted in February 2011 of felony counts of conspiracy and mail fraud for helping Guy W. Gane maintain a fraudulent scheme that promised 10 percent annual returns on real estate investments in Maine but never actually bought those properties. Instead, prosecutors said, some money from investors was used to pay off those who had previously invested.
Gane's company closed in 2008 after an investigation that included the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Division and the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission.
“The victims in this case are suffering and will never be made whole,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gretchen L. Wylegala. “Their retirement funds will never be made whole. The money is simply gone.”
Gane took a plea deal and testified against Gent and co-defendant James F. Lagona. He was sentenced to 13 years in federal prison.
Gent, who told Skretny he plans to file an appeal, has maintained he is innocent and that he stayed with Gane's Watermark Financial Services for 13 months in an attempt to save it from financial ruin and to recover money for investors. He insisted Thursday in court that he had new documents that would “reveal what I have been saying from day one.”
“This is a case where I believe the government was totally misinformed,” Gent told the judge.
Gent's attorney, Robert A. Liebers, had sought a sentence of probation based on Gent's age, his previously unblemished financial career, his Canadian citizenship, the fact that he helps care for an ill daughter and other factors.
“This is a man who prides himself in the quality of his work,” Liebers said of Gent. “He really thought he could save Watermark and make the clients whole.”
Skretny rejected the notion that Gent played only a “minor role,” noting that the investment scheme involved “sophisticated means,” including the creation of “official-looking” documents and promises of an influx of funding from an overseas benefactor in Greece.
“In my view, your conduct was motivated by greed, pure and simple,” Skretny told Gent, who sat quietly through most of the sentencing in a black suit and striped tie.
Gent's wife attended the sentencing and also tearfully pleaded with the judge for leniency.
Skretny could have sentenced Gent to 14 to 17½ years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but instead gave him eight years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
Gent, along with Gane and other co-defendants, also have been ordered to pay restitution to the victims of $6.39 million – an amount the victims have been told likely will never be paid back.
“It's going to be difficult for you to recover,” Skretny told Gent. “But for the victims, I think, it's going to be impossible to recover because of loss of money and trust.”
Skretny admonished Gent for failing to take meaningful action to stop the fraud despite having many opportunities to do so.
“You never took that opportunity,” Skretny told Gent.
Lagona, who also was found guilty at trial last year, is scheduled to be sentenced next year after pleading guilty earlier this month to a separate charge of obstruction of justice after he admitted approaching a campaign aide for Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul and offering what prosecutors called a “quid pro quo.”
Lagona, prosecutors said, offered to help Hochul's congressional campaign and wanted Hochul's husband, U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., to drop his fraud case.