Risher charged, held in elaborate Ponzi scheme
Sanibel resident James Risher was preparing to board a May 31 flight bound for Bermuda, when he was taken into federal custody, accused of bilking $16 million from more than 100 investors in an elaborate Ponzi scheme.
Risher had caught wind of the investigation launched by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, IRS and the State Office of Financial Regulation. Before he could fly away alone to Bermuda, where he reportedly controlled a bank account, 61-year-old Risher was arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, committing mail and wire fraud and money laundering.
The investment scheme began in early 2007, when Risher and his partner Daniel Sebastian solicited investments through three companies they managed. Sebastian marketed investment opportunities, while Risher was to conduct trades using those funds.
Linda Walker, inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, details the scheme in her 13-page complaint, which has been filed in the U.S. District Court’s Tampa Division. It states the pair collected more than $20 million, but only $4 million was actually invested or distributed. The remaining $16 million was diverted by Risher or Sebastian for their personal enrichment.
An analysis of Risher’s 24 bank accounts established that millions of dollars per year had been spent on personal residences, real estate, vehicles, artwork and other personal effects. Sebastian had also spent millions on residences, including a condominium in Panama, and other personal effects.
The clients, who are between the ages of 65 and 90, made investments through Risher and Sebastian ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. But this isn’t Risher’s first brush with committing fraud and money laundering. He has a long criminal history, dating back to the early 1990s.
In particular, he pleaded guilty to multiple counts of “theft by taking,” as well as multiple counts of violating Georgia’s securities act. He was sentenced to six years in prison, but was released on parole after serving only three years.
Four years later in February 1997, Risher again pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, one count of securities fraud and two counts of money laundering in the State of Florida. He was sentenced to seven years in prison (amended to five years), followed by three years of supervised release, 150 hours of community service and was ordered to pay $693,000 in restitution to the victims.
He also faced charges in 1989 and 1990 in California for racketeering and fraud. He was also connected to a separate Ponzi scheme in Lee County in 1996, but all the charges were dropped and the records are unclear as to the reason. None of Risher’s criminal history was included in his biography presented to the latest victims of his Ponzi ring.
Although Sebastian is named in Walker’s complaint, he has not been formally charged.
Risher had an initial appearance June 3 and was ordered detained. His next court appearance is set for 2 p.m. June 17 before Magistrate Judge Thomas McCoun in Tampa.