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4th Circuit hears Okun’s $126M fraud case

RICHMOND, Va. — A Miami businessman convicted of swindling hundreds of people out of about $126 million was improperly denied a hearing to challenge authorities’ raid on his Richmond businesses, his lawyer told a federal appeals court Wednesday.

Edward Hugh Okun’s attorney, Andrew A. Protogyrou, also argued that Okun’s 100-year sentence was excessive. He urged a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out Okun’s convictions and sentence and order a new trial.

Federal prosecutors defended decisions made by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne during Okun’s 2009 trial and sentencing.

The appeals court typically rules several weeks after hearing oral arguments.

Okun, 60, was convicted of 23 counts, including fraud and money laundering. He owned companies that held money from clients seeking to defer capital gains on property sales. Instead of safeguarding their money, however, he spent it to finance a lavish lifestyle and purchase a jet, luxury cars, expensive jewelry and a 131-foot yacht that the named after a woman he married in a $200,000 ceremony in 2005.

Protogyrou said the 100-year sentence was unreasonably harsh considering Okun’s age, his history of heart trouble and his lack of a previous criminal record. At sentencing, Okun’s previous attorneys had argued for a term of 10-15 years, while prosecutors had sought the maximum of 400 years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry told the appeals court the sentence chosen by Payne was appropriate. He said a term of 50 years also would have effectively been a life sentence, “but it might not have had the desired deterrent effect” on others who might be tempted to commit similar crimes.

Along with challenging the denial of a hearing on the search warrant, Okun claims the indictment insufficiently stated the elements of the wire fraud and mail fraud counts. He also alleges he was unfairly denied a two-week continuance of his trial.

At a sentencing hearing in August 2009, Payne heard three hours of tearful, often wrenching testimony from Okun’s victims. They described losing homes or money they were counting on for retirement. Some said the stress brought on by Okun led to physical ailments.

“The toll of human loss and suffering Mr. Okun’s unbridled greed produced is enormous,” Payne said before handing down the sentence.