Ponzi scheme mastermind gets 15 years in prison

‘Bernie Madoff of Dayton’ ordered to serve 15 years and pay back $32M

One at a time Friday, six people among the hundreds of victims who lost more than $32 million in a Ponzi scheme run by a Springboro man told a judge their stories of financial ruin.

One man, who lost nearly $500,000 of his family’s money and invested it only 10 weeks before William Apostelos’ arrest, said Apostelos was the “poster child of a con artist — slick, smooth and ruthless.” The man added he didn’t have the heart to tell his dying father that decades worth of savings were gone.

William Apostelos, 55, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to repay $32,776,576.72 to nearly 500 victims.

A prosecutor called Apostelos “the Bernie Madoff of Dayton, Ohio,” and U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose admonished Apostelos, who had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and to embezzlement of an employee benefit plan.

RELATED: Apostelos pleads guilty to Ponzi scheme

“You literally led these people that you knew to their financial ruin,” Rose said Friday in a packed courtroom in Dayton’s U.S District Court. “How could you? How could you do it?”

Apostelos was taken from a Dayton federal courtroom in handcuffs and to the applause of about 50 of his victims.

Federal investigators estimated more than $70 million was taken in during a span of at least five years. The 15-year sentence was the top end of a plea deal range. Apostelos and his wife Connie originally were indicted on 27 counts. She will be sentenced later this summer.

When he did address the court, Apostelos said, “I am embarrassed and ashamed, mortified at my own behavior.”

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Rather than investing the money received, Apostelos used it to pay for a lifestyle that included a $35,000 per month horse racing business, trips to casinos and his wife’s $400 per month Victoria’s Secret bill, according to court documents.

The judge heard six victim stories as Apostelos sat mostly stone-faced while at the defense table.

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A longtime area police officer and his nurse wife said they also lost a half-million dollars. “Apostelos has sentenced me to 10 more years of worth of working,” the wife said, “but at least the race horses were well-fed.”

A woman said she won’t be able to retire anytime soon and that her husband had to return to work after a long illness.

Another victim said she and her husband were going to lose their home and couldn’t afford the $1,700 it cost to declare bankruptcy. “The food pantry that we once served now serves us,” she said. “To you, Bill, the man of your word, you’re a liar and a thief.”

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A woman said she has become fearful and skeptical of others, not the positive person she used to be when she beat colon cancer in 2007: “This whole situation has been much, much harder.”

Another victim said she and her husband’s $340,000 saved during a combined 63 years worth of work is all gone and her husband has type-4 brain cancer.

The woman said she told Apostelos she needed money back for her husband’s treatment and, “Bill would say, ‘No problem. No problem,’ ” she said. “I say Bill needs the maximum amount of punishment because I think he earned it.”

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Assistant U.S. attorney Brent Tabacchi said Apostelos and his co-defendants “perpetrated once of the most egregious financial frauds in recent Dayton history. The scope of his crimes are staggering.”

In comparing Apostelos to the legendary Ponzi mastermind, Tabacchi said Madeoff shook down his wealthy friends whereas Apostelos suckered “work a day, largely blue collar” people like secretaries, police officers and firefighters.

“The money he took in represented life savings,” Tabacchi said, adding that the defendant “had no job except the Ponzi scheme.”

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Defense attorney Art Mullins said his client had expressed remorse: “If he had the money, he would make everyone whole.”

Mullins also said Apostelos – who he said has four metal rods in his back – has been sleeping on the floor at his niece’s house: “Mr. Apostelos himself is a broken man” as gallery members groaned when the attorney asked for a five-year sentence.

Mullins said 15-year sentences should be reserved for violent offenders, adding that when Apostelos is released, he will be destitute, to which several gallery members muttered, “Good.”

RELATED: Suspect in alleged Ponzi scheme says he’s a victim

Apostelos told the judge that he accepted responsibility for his actions of letting people down. “In the end, a man has to stand here and admit his mistakes,” he said. “I understand I’m a monster. … The last thing I ask is I need the chance to pay these people back, even if it’s one percent of one percent.”

Apostelos’ sister, niece and attorney have previously been sentenced in the scheme, which involved Apostelos operating and overseeing multiple purported investment and asset management companies.

Those included WMA Enterprises LLC, Midwest Green Resources LLC and Roan Capital. Investigators said Apostelos falsely reported he had a degree in mathematics and was a registered securities broker.

RELATED: More people come forward in FBI investigation of pyramid scheme

Connie Apostelos operated and oversaw Coleman Capital Inc. and Silver Bridle Racing LLC, which investigators said were financed through improper use of investor funds.

The couple recruited investors from 37 states to invest in WMA and Midwest Green, telling them their money would be used for acquiring stocks or securities, purchasing real estate or land, providing loans to business and buying gold and silver — often promising returns between 10 and 60 percent.

Investigators said when the defendants were late on interest payments, they told investors that their bank account had been hacked, a bank mistakenly failed to wire payment and/or the deal the victim had invested in was temporarily on hold.

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“This was a massive and devastating fraud – the largest Ponzi scheme ever in Dayton,” said Benjamin Glassman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “Apostelos thoroughly deserves the substantial prison sentence that he received today.”

Before he ordered Apostelos immediately be taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals, Rose said the defendant had orchestrated one of the most callous, heartless and calculated offenses he’d seen before him in 27 years on the bench.

Rose said he still wasn’t convinced Apostelos understood the impact of his crimes. Said the judge, “I didn’t hear sorry a lot.”

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