SALT LAKE CITY – A packed federal courthouse in downtown Salt Lake City as the man convicted for leading a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme is sentenced to 170 months, just over 14 years, in federal prison.
Some of his supporters say he’s being punished for taking on the federal government in years past, but his attorneys say he being punished for his religion.
Dismissal and mistrials were all part of the decade-long court battle against convicted fraudster Rick Koerber. Through it all, Judge Frederic Block says Koerber never really admitted he could have been doing something wrong. Investigators say Koerber lost over $42 million from investors in a $100 million dollar scheme.
People who lost money came to Koerber’s sentencing, however, in an odd twist, none of them condemned him. Several spoke out in his defense. One man had to be physically restrained and taken out of the courtroom after he wouldn’t stop testifying on Koerber’s behalf.
Outside the courthouse, one woman said Koerber was up front and open about the money they’d be losing.
She says, “He never told me what I wanted to hear, and that was, ‘Oh, it’s going to be OK. It’s all right.’ He never said that. He said, ‘I’ll do what I can.’”
She also says Koerber did what he could to make things right.
“He sent us $12,000 that he was under zero obligation to send us,” she said.
Before the sentencing started, members of the Cliven Bundy family held a press conference saying the charges against Koerber were really about one thing… retaliation. Ammon Bundy said Koerber was guilty of only one “crime.”
“He allowed an incorrect narrative to be spewed forth,” according to Bundy.
The Bundy’s had their own legal battle with the federal government in Oregon, after he and his group took control of a nature preserve over a dispute about that land. Cliven Bundy faced charges like conspiracy and firearms possession in a federal facility. Ammon Bundy says Koerber helped them get ready for their legal fight.
He says, “They saw this. It was very clear. This was a retaliation for his participation in our trial. Absolutely.”
He also believes Koerber should have been given a chance to “button up” the details regarding his business.
“Most of his investors would have been satisfied,” he says.
However, prosecutors say Koerber knew exactly what to say to appease and defraud his victims, many of them were fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Judge Block stated Koerber “has preyed upon his fellow Mormons in ways that are somewhat troubling.”
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