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Fund-Raiser Receives Maximum Penalty: 8 Years, Plus Restitution

July 25, 2002|MONTE MORIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A fund-raiser accused of bilking donors out of $27 million that was supposed to go to injured firefighters, wounded veterans and others in need was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison.

Mitchell Gold, 44, has been the subject of numerous complaints and investigations over the past decade, but Wednesday is the first time he received prison time for his actions. Federal judge David O. Carter handed down the maximum punishment and also ordered the San Juan Capistrano man to pay $2 million in restitution.

"You've committed illegal activities that should have been prosecuted a long time ago," Carter told Gold. "You've caused a ripple effect in the lake that is incredibly harmful.... Because of you there are foster children with AIDS, veterans without legs, and burn victims who will suffer.... You set a pretty high standard of fraud."

Gold pleaded guilty in March to mail fraud and money laundering in connection with his fund-raising efforts. Prosecutors said that although Gold claimed he was raising money for such causes as injured lawmen, he kept all but a tiny percentage for himself.

A Times analysis of Gold's fund-raising in the late 1990s found that charities received about 11% of the millions he raised. His company's telephone pitches appealed to the heart, with operators telling potential donors of young victims of fires whose scars will "haunt them for years to come."

More than two dozen of Gold's family members and friends attended the hearing, and many of them wept as Gold told the judge he was sorry for his actions.

"I want to apologize to any and all of the victims and for any pain I may have caused them by my bad decisions," Gold said. "I do take full responsibility for all of my actions."

Gold and his lawyer, Thomas Bienert, asked the judge for leniency, saying that Gold was needed to help rear his children and care for a sick relative.

Prosecutors, however, called for the stiffest sentence possible, saying that Gold's apologies were insincere. They pointed out that attorneys general in five states have tried to stop Gold's fund-raising with lawsuits. "He just keeps going; there is nothing that will stop this man," Assistant U.S. Atty. Ellyn Lindsay said. "The only thing he understands is jail."

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