SAN DIEGO - A salesman who took part in a scheme to swindle dozens of investors -- many of them seniors -- out of more than $3.8 million through marketing phony investment contracts was sentenced Friday to a year in custody and five years probation.
Judge Michael Smyth suspended a prison term of five years and eight months as long as Julio Angel Gomez is successful on probation.
Gomez, 45, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to making misstatements or omissions about the sale of a security and perjury. He also admitted an allegation that the loss was more than $500,000.
Gomez was charged in 2014, along with Richard and Carmen Provencio and Carl Battie, in a 136-count criminal complaint involving fraudulent dealings through two companies: Masters of Retirement and American Equity Direct.
"The defendants in this case were ruthless and heartless in the way they targeted their elderly victims," said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Investors were guaranteed returns way above market -- 7 to 15 percent; were assured their principal was guaranteed safe; and were told a number of lies in order to get them to invest, according to prosecutors.
Richard Provencio, the president of the investment companies, and Battie each pleaded guilty to securities fraud, financial elder abuse and conspiracy.
Provencio was sentenced earlier to 15 years in state prison and Battie is scheduled to be sentenced next month to 14 years behind bars.
Provencio's wife, Carmen, pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to three years in prison.
At Friday's sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Michael Zachry argued that Gomez should be sentenced to eight years in prison, telling the judge that the defendant tried to silence victims by intimidating them with possible penalties.
Defense attorney Gabriel Moore countered that there was no evidence that his client knew of Richard Provencio's misdeeds.
"There's nothing that screams fraud," Moore told the judge. "He (Gomez) should have run away."
Moore called Gomez a "good guy who made bad decisions," selling investments mostly to friends and people referred to him by friends. Moore said sending Gomez to prison would be a hardship on his wife and twin 8-year-old boys.
But 74-year-old Luis Natividad, who lost his life savings of $110,000, asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Gomez, saying, "I don't feel sorry for him." He said he had to go back to work to pay bills and take care of his sick wife because of what the defendants did.
Smyth said he granted probation in part to keep Gomez working in hopes that the victims will get some of their money back.