Jan. 31–A Jenison man accused of bilking West Michigan residents out of more than $4.3 million has been sent to prison for a minimum seven years.
Scott Richard Rookus, 45, was sentenced Monday in Ottawa County Circuit Court.
Judge Jon Hulsing said he was exceeding the sentencing guidelines for the defendant.
“It’s more than justified by the monetary loss for multiple individuals,” the judge said.
Rookus’ attorney, Mark Hunting, asked the judge to stick with a 4.75-year minimum, noting that his client’s “legitimate investment” turned into something different. Hunting also emphasized the many letters sent to the judge supporting his client, and that Rookus acknowledged his wrongdoing and wants to pay back the victims.
“I know for a fact that Mr. Rookus knows he’s violated the trust of his friends and family, as well,” the defense attorney said. “If there is any chance of paying back anything, he is going to need a long working life.”
Rookus said that he realizes he caused a great deal of pain and suffering for everyone.
“It was never my intention to hurt anyone or harm them,” he said prior to sentencing.
Some of Rookus’ victims were in the courtroom on Monday, but only Charles and Evelyn Vanderlaar went forward to make a statement. Charles Vanderlaar said that Rookus had handled their investments since 2000 via two firms where he was employed and finally when he went out on his own.
When Rookus declared bankruptcy in 2015, the Vanderlaars discovered they were short $685,000. It affected them financially and mentally, Charles said.
“We lost all the IRA funds and a lot of our savings, as well,” he said.
Assistant state Attorney General Scott Teter said clients didn’t question what Rookus was doing because they always received statements.
Teter pushed for the harshest punishment possible.
“He’s never going to pay back $4 million and they know it,” he said.
Teter said the only way the victims would get any satisfaction is seeing the man go to prison.
Hulsing said he received a series of letters from “solid, upstanding Ottawa County citizens.” The judge noted the comments were appropriate, but they were about a different person.
“The individual that is being sentenced today engaged in a criminal enterprise for a number of years,” Hulsing said.
The judge noted that Rookus routinely paid himself with the investment funds, and also used the money to buy things for himself and to pay tuition at a Christian school for his children.
He did not reveal to his investors that he was not licensed, Hulsing said, and this was not a failed business venture. It went on for years.
Despite the supportive letters, Hulsing told Rookus: “Your friends and family didn’t know what drove you. It’s money that drove you.”
“The crime this man allegedly committed destroyed the savings of many who are on a fixed income,” said state Attorney General Bill Schuette when the charges were first revealed. “Instead of admitting his mistakes, he furthered his criminal enterprise in an attempt to cover his already illegal dealings. I hope this will provide some relief and repayment for those affected by this man’s dealings.”
Rookus was arraigned on the original charges on June 7, 2016, in Ottawa County Circuit Court. On Dec. 12, he pleaded guilty to one count of criminal enterprise and one count of violation of the Securities Act.
Dismissed in the plea agreement were: four counts of embezzlement of $100,000 or more, two counts of embezzlement of $50,000 or more, two counts of embezzlement of $20,000 or more, three counts of false pretenses of $100,000 or more, five counts of false pretenses of $20,000 or more, eight counts of larceny by conversion of $20,000 or more, and seven counts of violating the Securities Act.
Rookus must still pay restitution for all counts charged and uncharged.
Between 2010 and 2013, Rookus solicited and obtained investments of approximately $1.5 million for his holdings company, New Haven Holdings. His customers, many of whom were senior citizens, were told that earnings from their investments would come from the profits of Rookus’ enterprises, when in fact the money he took resulted in an alleged Ponzi scheme from which he was the primary beneficiary.
To cover his tracks, Rookus issued fraudulent returns to some investors using money from newer investors. He used the investor funds to pay personal expenses such as his children’s private school education and tax liens against him.
The scheme was uncovered after Rookus filed for personal bankruptcy in March 2015 and his investors found out that they had lost everything they invested.
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