U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan rattled off a list of numbers to emphasize the impact con man Scott Anderson Hall had on 48 victims – including retired Jacksonville teachers – in a Ponzi scheme that stole many of their life savings: “$352,000. $304,000. $124,000. $132,000. $298,000. $203,000. $132,000. $176,000.”
Three women who were among the victims of the 12-year scam locked arms and trembled as Corrigan sentenced Hall to 10 years in prison during a hearing Friday in federal court in Jacksonville. The sentence matched what prosecutors wanted.
“I do wish all of you well and hope for a brighter future for all of you,” Corrigan told the victims.
Hall, 50, stood before Corrigan a short time earlier and promised to somehow find a way to earn a living and pay his victim’s back once he’s freed. His apology to them extended to his family, including an elderly father, wife and three children, many of whom held their heads in their hands as he was sentenced.
“This was not supposed to happen this way,” said Hall, who wore leg shackles and an orange jail jumpsuit.
Corrigan said he sensed Hall’s apology was less than sincere and questioned whether the victims would ever see a penny. The three victims in the courtroom declined to comment after the hearing.
Friday’s hearing was the second day of sentencing after testimony March 30 from a slew of victims and family members. Hall, an insurance salesman and self-proclaimed financial adviser with no criminal record, pleaded guilty to fraud and money-laundering charges in late 2013 and faced more than 11 years in prison.
Money from the investments that Hall promised would bring large returns were instead used by him to buy commercial property, luxury cars and other items, prosecutors said.
The sham investment scheme began in 1999 and ended in 2011. Hall set up a shell corporation, Abaco Securities International, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies, as a sham offshore investment company. Hall was listed as the director of the company that included a website, but whose only location was a post office box.
The victims included current clients and client referrals of various financial companies where Hall worked as an independent agent. He solicited his victims to invest their retirement savings, usually held in Individual Retirement Accounts, in an investment product he described as ASI and promised interest rates sometimes exceeding 12 percent.
Many victims were Duval County School Board employees, including one former principal, court records show. Other victims lived in Georgia and North Carolina.
Victims would occasionally request payments from their investments. As is routinely done in Ponzi schemes, Hall would make partial payments to longer-term victims from new investors. But most of the money was deposited into SunTrust accounts set up by Hall and then stolen by him.
Investigators found Hall created sham account documents to trick people.
A federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment, all but four counts of which were dropped as part of his plea agreement.
Among the victims was Chris Gee, a North Carolina man whose wife bought a $500,000 life insurance policy through someone who worked part time for Hall. When Gee’s wife died in 2011, Hall showed up at the funeral, though he didn’t know Gee or his wife.
Hall then followed the family to a reception, where he convinced Gee to invest the life insurance proceeds with him.
Hall stole about $300,000 of Gee’s money, much of which Gee said he planned to use to raise his two young children.
That and other cases were highlighted by federal prosecutor Mark Devereaux in an emotional closing argument during which he pointed at Hall several times while blasting his thievery.
“These were people trying to do the right thing,” Devereaux said. “The defendant knew they were not well-to-do individuals.”
Hall’s attorney, Charlie Truncale, tried to get his client a lighter sentencing by arguing that he’d taken less money than alleged and noting that sentencing guidelines for the crimes committed by Hall were to be reduced later this year.
But Corrigan said the impact of what Hall did, the trust he violated and the need to deter others from such crimes were factors he considered before the sentence.
“These are all real people,” Corrigan said, “who lost real money.”
Never to see it again. Jim Schoettler: (904) 359-4385