Flathead County District Court Judge Amy Eddy Jan. 25 accepted a plea deal in the Ponzi case of Catherine Ann Finberg.
In the deal, the Columbia Falls woman agreed to plead no contest Dec. 28 to a felony count of embezzlement, common scheme; guilty to operating a pyramid promotional scheme and guilty to two counts of fraudulent security practices in exchange for the state dropping a charge of failure to register as a securities broker.
Finberg has also agreed to serve a 10-year sentence in Montana State prison, with an additional 30 years suspended, though under Montana law, she’d be eligible for parole in 2-1/2 years.
The court did receive a letter from a victim asking that Finberg serve no time in prison, but Eddy said she would hold to the plea agreement.
Finberg also has to pay a total of $1.013 million in restitution and interest, which includes $140,000 she embezzled from a developmentally disabled man in Columbia Falls. Finberg took money from investors and used it for day trading stocks, but the investments, particularly in the past few years, lost money. In turn, she used money from other investors and the disabled man’s account to cover the losses and pay her own bills, an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commissioner of the State Auditor’s office found.
According to the plea agreement, there were 13 local victims in her case. One local couple invested more than $136,000 with Finberg.
The investigation into Finberg began after Columbia Falls Police Department received a complaint of missing money from the developmentally disabled man in January 2016. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also looked into the matter after Glacier Bank notified the agency of possible illegal activity with Finberg’s accounts.
The FBI then notified the state auditor’s office, which took over the investigation.
Since 2008, Finberg allegedly obtained investments of $1,294,300 from more than 18 people, according to initial court documents, though the number of victims was pared down in the plea agreement. Numerous checks deposited into Finberg’s account listed “day trading” or “investment” in the memo field.
One of the investors was the grandparent of the disabled individual. Investigators found that $44,000 of the grandfather’s money was transferred to Finberg’s account at Interactive Brokers. And Finberg allegedly used $31,000 for her personal use and to pay other investors.
Investigators determined that Finberg typically wired a portion of investment proceeds to the brokerage account and retained some of the money for personal use and to make monthly payments to previous investors – in essence, a Ponzi scheme.
Sentencing was set for March 16.