While a capacity crowd of his victims looked on, the former head of a defunct South Bay investment company who swindled hundreds of mostly elderly investors out of $30 million was sentenced Tuesday to 18 years in federal prison.
Before he was sentenced, Morris D. English Jr., 52, former head of the Rolling Hills Estates-based Wellington Group real estate investment firm, faced the courtroom audience and said: "I'm sorry for what you feel. . . . I'll never convince you that I never set out with the intent to defraud any of you." As English spoke, some members of the audience shook their heads and whispered, "No, no," and called him a liar.
After a two-month trial and a month of jury deliberations, English was convicted in March on 30 counts of mail fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, bankruptcy fraud and criminal contempt. Prosecutors had described his company, which was heavily promoted on radio programs, as a classic Ponzi scheme in which investors' money was used to pay off old investors and to support English's lavish personal lifestyle, including expensive homes, airplanes and cars for his son and his girlfriend. Prosecutors called it one of the biggest real estate investment scams in state history.
U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian said English's actions had caused one distraught elderly investor to commit suicide and many others to lose their homes and life savings.
English also was ordered to pay about $850,000 restitution, but prosecutors said it is unclear whether he will be able to pay it. His company's assets have been turned over to a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee, and several civil suits in connection with the company are pending.
Under federal prison rules, English, who has been held without bail since his arrest last year, will have to serve at least 85% of his sentence.