State hits hard on financial crimes |

State hits hard on financial crimes

California Attorney General Kamala Harris continued touting her office’s zealous pursuit of financial crime perpetrators that target the elderly.

On Monday, Harris announced a 42-year prison sentence for a Northern California man who ran a Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 400 investors, most of them elderly, out of more than $90 million.

James Koenig, 60, of Redding, owned Assent Real Estate Corporation from 1999 to 2008.

The company specialized in the acquisition, management and resale of commercial property and elder care facilities, Harris said. Most victims of his Ponzi scheme were elderly individuals from the Bay Area.

Closer to home, the attorney general’s office has prosecuted a number of high-profile white collar crimes in western Nevada County over the past few years.

Thomas Hastert, a western Nevada County lawyer turned mortgage broker who ran a hard money lending operation called Loan Sense, was sentenced to seven years in 2010 after being found guilty of embezzlement and illegally selling real estate securities over a three-year period beginning in 2004.

The case was prosecuted by State Deputy Attorney General Keith Lyons under the direction of then-Attorney General and current Gov. Jerry Brown.

Last year, Harris’ office filed charges against Phil Lester, et al., for allegedly defrauding investors of millions of dollars over a period of eight years.

Lester ran a hard money lending operation, Gold Country Lenders; his sister, Susan Laferte, acted as the chief financial officer.

The two currently face 61 counts — one count of using a scheme to defraud, 50 counts of offering securities for sale by means of an untrue statement or omission of a material fact and 10 counts of fraud from an elder adult.

Their jury trial is currently set to start Sept. 17 after Nevada County Superior Judge Candace Heidelberger denied a motion made in early July that sought to have the charges dismissed.

On the day Lester and Laferte were arrested, Harris issued a pointed statement that emphasized the targeting of elderly victims as “especially heinous.”

“These defendants exploited their personal relationships with these victims and emptied their bank accounts,” Harris said.

“Prosecuting fraud and elder abuse needs to remain priorities for law enforcement.”

Harris struck a similar note when issuing the statement regarding Koenig, who was found guilty in May of 35 felony counts.

The charges included conspiracy, use of a scheme to defraud in connection with sales of securities, sales of securities by means of false statements and residential burglary relating to the sales of fraudulent investments. The jury also found special enhancements for “great takings” because of the large amount of loss involved.

“This individual ran a ruthless Ponzi scheme that robbed investors, including vulnerable elderly people, of their life savings,” Harris said.

“The 42-year prison sentence represents justice given the severity of this crime and the deep impact on victims. I commend the work of the Department of Justice attorneys and support staff who worked on this complex case.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or 530-477-4239.

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