SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The Poway man accused of running a $6 million dollar Ponzi scheme has pleaded guilty to grand theft and securities fraud.
He is slated to be sentenced to a dozen years in state prison next month for orchestrating the scheme that scammed nearly 50 victims, the California Department of Insurance announced Wednesday.
Team 10 first spoke to several alleged victims of Dougherty last year. They said he stole the money he was supposed to invest for them. Sheriff's investigators said he targeted the elderly planning for retirement. He offered victims investment opportunities in companies he owned, then used some of their funds for his personal expenses like home remodeling, travel and college tuition, according to officials.
A spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office said 47-year-old Christopher Dougherty pleaded guilty to three counts of securities fraud, three counts of grand theft, and admitted to a white collar crime enhancement.
Dougherty also used some of the victims' money to pay back other investors "in classic Ponzi fashion," according to the Department of Insurance. When he was no longer able to pay his investors back, "the Ponzi scheme collapsed."
More than half of Dougherty's victims were 65 years of age or older, according to prosecutors.
Among the investments Dougherty touted to his victims was a 100-acre organic cattle ranch and marijuana growing project in Alpine that didn't generate any profits for investors.
Dougherty filed for bankruptcy in October 2018.
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"Dougherty ruthlessly took advantage of his clients' trust in order to steal their life savings, causing unfathomable harm," state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara said. "Thanks to the great work by Department of Insurance investigators and the San Diego (County) District Attorney's Office, his conviction will bring some level of justice to victims and their families."
Dougherty was charged last April by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office and has been in custody since then.
“This was a classic Ponzi scheme where the defendant stole millions of dollars from trusting families and senior citizens. These aren’t rich investors, they’re people who worked hard and trusted their life savings with someone who preyed on their vulnerabilities," District Attorney Summer Stephan said after Dougherty's arrest.
Sentencing is slated for April 24.