Mastermind of Multi-Million Dollar Ponzi Scheme is Sentenced to 18 Years in Prison

In a case prosecuted by the state Department of Justice, William Arthur Sassman II, who looted the life savings of dozens of investors to ba...

In a case prosecuted by the state Department of Justice, William Arthur Sassman II, who looted the life savings of dozens of investors to bankroll his own lavish lifestyle and finance his own investments, was sentenced today to 18 years in prison.

Sassman convinced people who had painstakingly saved for their retirement that he could make a lot of money for them. Instead he used their money for his fine clothing, his expensive cars, his several homes and his own illegal investments.

Sassman, 42, of Sacramento, appeared in Sacramento County Superior Court today where he had previously entered a guilty plea on 13 felony counts of grand theft.

Judge Lloyd G. Connelly sentenced Sassman to prison and ordered him to pay more than $4.45 million in restitution to 48 victims. No funds have been found, however, and it is unlikely victims will receive repayment.

An investigation by agents of the Department of Justice revealed that Sassman, a licensed insurance agent, operated a Ponzi scheme starting about 10 years ago in which he repaid current investors with money from new investors.

Using a book he wrote, "Secrets of a Worry Free Retirement," Sassman convinced investors, many of whom were senior citizens, to shift their life savings to "high return" investments. These investments included foreclosed properties and real estate on Mare Island (Vallejo) and in other states, commercial property in El Dorado Hills near Sacramento, the production of a laptop computer stand called the "Notefloat," which never sold, and annuity, stock and foreign currency investments.

Sassman actually invested little of the money and rarely paid the double to triple digit returns he promised. Instead, he spent investors' millions financing his lavish lifestyle. He charged more than $1 million on his American Express cards, spent $300,000 on automobiles, including two Ferraris, and spent more than $121,000 at Polo Ralph Lauren. Sassman possessed three invitation-only Centurion cards, which are black metal cards issued by American Express for high spenders. He also had an electronic card for collecting public assistance despite owning three homes and numerous cars.

The limited funds Sassman did invest were channeled into other illegal operations in which Sassman himself was victimized. Sassman failed to disclose to investors that he had invested more than $200,000 in a "Nigerian swindle" in 2000-2002. He also lost money in a "stock trading program" run by a group subsequently indicted in federal court in 2009 for running a Ponzi scheme and a European investment scam that promised a 200 percent profit in 45 days or 800 percent annually.

As Sassman's empire fell apart in September 2009, he sought bankruptcy for himself and his companies, but he continued to solicit funds from investors. When Sassman was arrested in November 2009, investigators discovered that in the two months before his arrest he had sent another $20,000 to a new "Nigerian swindle."

Since his arrest, Sassman has remained in custody with bail set at $2 million. But investigators discovered that he had family members gain access to stolen funds to support his family and put funds on his jail commissary account.

Sassman's victims include a Sacramento resident who invested more than $250,000 in one of Sassman's companies. Sassman promised her a seven percent annual return. Her money was combined with money from other investors for a total of more than $700,000. Of that money, Sassman spent approximately $400,000 on personal expenses, more than $50,000 went to Sassman's wife, and more than $34,000 was paid in returns to other investors. The victim lost $170,000 of her investment.

In January 2007, a Sacramento couple gave Sassman more than $80,000 that was supposed to be invested in real estate and interest-bearing accounts, but the entire amount was used to pay previous investors.

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Justice, with assistance from the Department of Insurance and the Department of Corporations.

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