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Ponzi schemer gets over 17 years, ordered to repay $103 million

Santillo's ponzi scheme had victims buying into fraudulent companies, using money from new victims to pay back old ones.
Credit: AP
FILE - Perry Santillo walks outside the federal courthouse in Scranton, Pa., after pleading guilty to a federal fraud charge on Nov. 4, 2019. Santillo, once dubbed “King Perry”, was sentenced on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, to more than 17 years in prison for his role in masterminding a long-running investment scam that collected more than $115 million from 1,000 investors nationwide. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam. File)

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A man once dubbed “King Perry” was sentenced Thursday to more than 17 years in prison for his role in masterminding a long-running investment scam that collected more than $115 million from 1,000 investors nationwide.

Perry Santillo appeared in federal court in Rochester, New York, more than two years after pleading guilty to mail fraud and conspiracy. A federal judge also ordered him to pay $103 million in restitution.

Santillo and his alleged conspirators in the Ponzi scheme coaxed clients to cash in their retirement accounts and invest in sham companies under their control, using the money from newer investors to repay earlier investors, according to court documents.

To ensure a fresh supply of victims, Santillo and his confederates bought the businesses — and client lists — of a series of investment advisers and brokerages, prosecutors said. Over the years, they acquired investment firms in Tennessee, Ohio, Minnesota, Nevada, California, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Indiana, according to court documents.

Federal securities regulators have said Santillo used some of the proceeds to fund a lavish lifestyle of cars, casino junkets and houses in multiple states. Lyrics to a song written for Santillo boasted that “King Perry” wears a "$10,000 suit everywhere he rides.”

Several of Santillo's victims testified at his sentencing Thursday. Some had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in retirement savings.

In a letter to the court, Santillo expressed regret and said he is “haunted by the devastation I have caused to so many. ... I am truly ashamed of my choices."

Several other figures in the scheme have pleaded guilty, including another ringleader, Christopher Parris, who faces sentencing next month.

Santillo has also pleaded guilty to a related federal fraud charge in Pennsylvania. He has yet to be sentenced in that case.

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