Santa Ana, California - A San Jose woman who was convicted running a Ponzi scheme that bilked over 200 victims out of more than $24 million was sentenced today to serve 151 months in federal prison.
Bich Quyen Nguyen, 60, received the sentence from United States District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who said the crime caused physical, emotional and psychological harm to victims who, in some case, lost their entire life savings.
In addition to the prison term of more than 12½ years, Judge Staton ordered Nguyen to pay $24,517,482 in restitution.
Nguyen was found guilty conspiring to commit wire fraud in December 2013 by a jury that heard about Nguyen’s investment scheme, which offered purported certificates of deposit issued by a Swedish financial institution that she supposedly ran. The evidence presented during a six-day trial showed that Nguyen told victims that she was the chief executive officer Sun Investment Savings and Loan, which guaranteed annual returns of more than 30 percent on one-year certificates of deposit involving at least $1 million. Nguyen told victims that she used “trading platforms” and made trades at a high frequency and velocity to achieve the high rates of return. Nguyen told victims that their investments were safe because the victims’ money would be in “blocked” accounts. Nguyen further told victims that she had prepared for the 2008 financial crisis so their returns were still protected and guaranteed.
While claims about the investment were bogus, Nguyen’s “false promises did persuade the victims to give up their life-savings,” according to court documents filed by prosecutors. “Because of [Nguyen’s] fraud, the victims were forced to put off their retirements and stretch their remaining resources to simply make ends meet.”
To get the rates that Nguyen fraudulently promised, victims from southern California and Nevada organized private investment clubs to pool the required $1 million. Several of the victim investment clubs were located in Anaheim and Rialto.
During the second half of 2008, Nguyen and co-conspirators made presentations to victims across the region, with some of the presentations taking place at churches.
In the Spring of 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission obtained orders from United States District Judge David O. Carter that prevented Nguyen and her co-conspirators from continuing to offer these investments. Following the issuance of the injunctions, a receiver and forensic accountant reviewed records and determined that the victims’ money was never “safe,” in part because it was commingled with other victims’ money; some of the victims’ money was used to make Ponzi payments to other investors; and the promised investments were never made. Despite Judge Carter’s orders, Nguyen in May and July 2009 continued to offer investments in Las Vegas and overseas.
In sentencing papers that described Nguyen as being “relentless in the execution of her fraud,” prosecutors cited numerous false promises to victims, lies she told during her trial (including blaming a dead man for the scheme) and a complete lack of remorse. Nguyen has “failed to take any responsibility for the over [$24] million that victims lost due to her fraud,” according to one sentencing memo. “Defendant’s ‘pass-the-buck’ attitude cannot be ignored when there are over 200 victims due to her fraud.”
Nguyen has been in custody for over year after being remanded into custody by Judge Staton when the trial concluded.
Previously in this case, another member of the conspiracy—Johnny Edward Johnson, 70, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Johnson, who faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Staton on February 27.
The investigation of Nguyen and Johnson was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The SEC provided substantial assistance.