A food-snacks distributor is going to federal prison for the next three and a half years for running what prosecutors described as a $2.7 million Ponzi scheme on several elders.
U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice on Monday sentenced Richard Alan Bazzell to 42 months behind bars and said he needs to undergo mental health counseling and pay back about $2.5 million to 22 victims, including a longtime manager in the Hamilton County mayor's office.
After listening to several bilked victims testify about his deceit, Bazzell apologized to them and said he planned to pay them back, even though his attorney said the failed venture basically left him bankrupt.
"First, I'd like to reiterate how very sorry I am, that I put you guys in this situation," Bazzell said. "I was trying to keep the business going so I could pay everybody back."
Starting in 2010, prosecutors said, Bazzell convinced several people to invest in his parent company, Prosperitas Capital LLC, as he attempted to grow a side project known as TrailSteaks. According to federal prosecutors, Bazzell promised an 8 percent return on their investments and sometimes used U.S. Mail to send information and get people involved.
But TrailSteaks didn't do as well as Bazzell hoped, and by 2013, the owner had spent all of his investors' money, prosecutors said. Instead of telling them as much, Bazzell would "falsely and fraudulently report that their investments were secure," prosecutors said.
Richard Bazzell's chargesView
Bazzell's defense attorney, Leslie Cory, said her client was extremely remorseful for his actions and didn't tell people about their souring investments in 2013 because he was scrambling to make things right. Cory reminded Mattice and the numerous victims seated in the gallery that Bazzell lost a lot, too. He is now effectively bankrupt, she said.
Prosecutors said that was how a scheme worked: The longer he went not telling anybody what happened, the longer Bazzell preyed on misinformed investors who handed over their money.
"It is not unusual for a white-collar defendant to have an unblemished [criminal] record," assistant U.S. prosecutor Perry Piper wrote in a motion. "Bernie Madoff had never been arrested before his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme had been uncovered."
Bazzell pleaded guilty to his two counts of frauds and swindles and one count of bank fraud on Sept. 20, 2017, federal records show. At his sentencing hearing Monday, he faced between 37 months and 46 months in prison.
Saying a "mid-range" punishment seemed appropriate, Judge Mattice settled on 42 months. He said Bazzell, who is out on bond, must report to prison no later than March 7.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.
This story was updated Feb. 5, 2018, at 11:10 p.m.