A former Shawnee, Okla., insurance agent was sentenced recently to 97 months in federal prison, but state prosecutors say the man has agreed to a much lengthier sentence for swindling scores of investors out of more than $8 million, according to the Associated Press.
“My goal is that he dies in prison,” Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon said after Merl William Hickman Sr. was sentenced in federal court for money laundering.
Hickman, 55, promised investors annual returns of 20 percent and more. But money from later investors was paid to earlier investors with the remainder used to fund a lavish lifestyle of boats, cars and travel for him and his family.
Hickman publicly apologized Monday before his sentencing, claiming that he always intended to return investors’ money, but the scheme “simply got out of hand.”
Victims, many of them longtime clients of Hickman, submitted hundreds of letters to U.S. District Judge Tim Leonard describing their losses. Some lost their life savings, including retirees who have been forced to return to work, Leonard said.
“The victims in this case were your friends and neighbors and church members who developed a trust with you,” Leonard said.
“Not only have they lost money, but they’ve lost a little something of their trust in their fellow man. That’s tragic.”
Linda Spaugy of Shawnee, who invested $100,000 with Hickman in 2002, said she was not impressed by Hickman’s apology.
“Absolutely not,” Spaugy said. “He took my life savings.”
Charged in Pottawatomie County with 444 counts of obtaining money by false pretenses, Hickman is expected to plead guilty to 16 counts of fraud and be sentenced to serve consecutive 10-year terms for each count, Smothermon said.
That 160-year sentence would amount to one year for each of the estimated 160 victims, Smothermon said.
“It’s symbolic,” Smothermon said.
Leonard on Monday also sentenced Hickman’s son, Merl William Hickman Jr., to a five-year federal prison term for his role in the scheme. Hickman Jr., 34, is expected to plead guilty to a single felony conspiracy count next month in Pottawatomie County in exchange for a 10-year sentence.
The Hickmans would begin serving their state sentences after release from federal prison, Smothermon said. They are scheduled to appear in district court in Shawnee on Dec. 10.
Leonard also ordered each of the Hickmans to pay more than $8.5 million in restitution. However, a court-appointed receiver who is selling off the Hickmans’ possessions has seized nearly all of their assets.
Those investors likely won’t get more than 10 cents for each dollar they lost, attorney Steven Moriarty said.
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