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4th Circuit upholds conviction for swindling

RICHMOND, Va.  — A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction and 100-year prison sentence of a Miami businessman who swindled clients out of about $126 million to finance a lavish lifestyle that included luxury cars and a yacht he named after a woman he married in a $200,000 ceremony.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected 60-year-old Edward Hugh Okun’s claim that the sentence was excessive because he is suffering from a heart ailment. The court also found no merit to Okun’s claims that the indictment was deficient and that he was improperly denied an evidentiary hearing and a continuance.

A jury convicted Okun on 23 counts, including fraud and money laundering. Okun owned companies that held money from clients seeking to defer capital gains taxes on property sales. Instead of safeguarding their money, however, he spent it on personal items ranging from a jet to a party where guests were treated to brandy shots that cost about $1,000 apiece, according to court records and 2009 trial testimony.

Several of Okun’s victims testified at his trial that his scheme stripped them of their life savings and their hopes for a comfortable retirement.

“Today’s opinion confirms that it is just for fraudsters who rob the life savings of their victims to spend the rest of their lives — or at least a big chunk of it — behind bars,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said after the appeals court issued its ruling.

Okun’s attorney, Andrew Protogyrou, was in court. He did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Bonnie Schloss of Silver Spring, Md., who lost about $340,000 because of Okun’s scheme, said in a telephone interview that she was glad to hear Okun remains unlikely to ever get out of prison.

“That’s lovely news,” said Schloss, who added that she has recouped about $240,000 but is still feeling the effects of her ordeal.

“It took so much out of me for three years, worrying about the money and being frustrated with the process,” Schloss said. “I can’t tell you what it does to you.”

Prosecutors had sought the maximum 400 years in prison for Okun, whose attorney suggested a term of 10 to 15 years. The sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert Payne was 50 years less than Bernard Madoff got for bilking investors out of tens of billions of dollars.

The appeals court said the district court “considered the parties’ arguments and had a reasoned basis for exercising its own legal decision-making authority.”

Okun claimed that he was entitled to an evidentiary hearing to challenge a former colleague’s statement that his business did not have enough funds to repay his clients. The appeals court said no evidentiary hearing was necessary because the statement about depleted funds was clearly true.

The court also said the continuance that Okun requested two weeks before trial would have been unfair to the government, which already had arranged for more than two dozen witnesses to travel to Richmond from around the country.

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