A former executive who defrauded investors of at least $US30 million ($29 million) has been sentenced to 22 years in prison after a judge denounced him for fleecing nearly 100 victims to finance an "obscene lifestyle".
US District Judge Charles Breyer said Samuel "Mouli" Cohen was "nearly sociopathic" for refusing to show remorse for actor Danny Glover and others who suffered after he told them his Ecast electronic jukebox company would be bought by Microsoft.
The fraud caused the collapse of the nonprofit charity Vanguard Public Foundation, which Glover and singer Harry Belafonte founded in 1972, prosecutors said.
"In more than 40 years of experience with the criminal justice system, I have never encountered a con man like Mr Cohen," Breyer told the defendant, who stood impassively in jailhouse garb as emotional victims watched from the courtroom gallery.
"He is serial in his proclivity to commit cons. He is nearly sociopathic in his ability to relate to his victims."
Prosecutors had sought a 30-year prison term, which would have exceeded the 24-year sentence of Jeff Skilling, the architect of Enron's collapse.
Breyer disdainfully held up a cookbook written by Cohen's wife titled The Kosher Billionaire's Secret Recipe and called it a guidebook to the couple's "obscene lifestyle".
Cohen rented a $US50,000-a-month mansion in the wealthy enclave of Belvedere just north of San Francisco, and decorated the house with copies of famous paintings by Picasso, Miro, Matisse and other noted artists.
Prosecutors said he solicited investments during parties at his house, which he told victims he owned, while showing them the artworks he claimed were originals.
Prosecutors produced receipts, credit card records and other evidence at the trial that showed Cohen spent $US6 million on private jets, $US1.4 million on a diamond ring, $US372,000 on a Rolls Royce and $US260,000 on an Aston Martin.
A federal jury in November convicted Cohen of 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering and three counts of tax evasion after a three-week trial. Cohen plans to appeal.
Prosecutors said the swindle began in 2002 when Cohen approached Glover and Hari Dillon, who were leaders of the nonprofit Vanguard Public Foundation. The charity was launched in 1972 and distributed grants to a wide range of social causes often on the far left on the political spectrum such as anti-war movements.
Cohen told Vanguard leaders that Microsoft was poised to buy Ecast and offered to sell shares to Glover, Vanguard and others affiliated with the charity for $US3.50 each, promising extraordinary returns once the acquisition closed, prosecutors said.
Over the years, Cohen claimed the acquisition was being held up by US regulators and then their counterparts in Europe. He returned several times to the investors and recruited new ones with pleas for more money to clear the alleged regulatory hurdles. Cohen said the deal would die without the additional funds, prosecutors said.
Vanguard was forced to close its doors after the scheme was exposed in 2008.
Susanne Moore, a Vanguard board member, told the judge that Cohen took most of her net worth and caused the bitter falling out with two close friends while almost breaking up her marriage.
Cohen looked away when Moore tried to make eye contact with him.