reuters.com / By Ann Saphir and Tom Polansek / SAN FRANCISCO/CHICAGO | Tue Jan 22, 2013 5:23pm EST
(Reuters) – Peregrine Financial Group’s former chief executive stole more than $215 million from customers of his now-defunct futures brokerage and should be sentenced to the maximum 50 years in jail, U.S. prosecutors said on Tuesday.
Russell Wasendorf Sr., 64, who founded the firm, has pleaded guilty to embezzlement but wants a lighter sentence, saying the loss was less than $200 million and that he used “very basic, simple means” to carry out his fraud, according to documents filed by U.S. prosecutors.
Wasendorf, whose attempted suicide sent his firm into bankruptcy last July, is in jail in Iowa and will be sentenced on January 31.
U.S. prosecutors say the large loss, the sophisticated nature of the crime, and the sheer number of victims – more than 10,000 – justify his spending the rest of his life behind bars.
“While some of defendant’s individual acts might be characterized as simple in isolation, they were part of an exceedingly complex scheme whereby defendant’s entire business was used as a mechanism to gather and purloin investor funds,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum, promising to fight any attempt by Wasendorf to receive a sentence of less than 50 years.
Prosecutors put the exact loss at $215,530,547, based on Peregrine’s bank records, and will call Brenda Cuypers, the firm’s chief financial officer, as a witness at the sentencing hearing next week.
They had previously pegged the embezzlement only at “more than $100 million,” to which Wasendorf pleaded guilty.