Former financial adviser Dawn Bennett was sentenced on Wednesday to 20 years in federal prison for her conviction on 17 federal charges related to a $20 million Ponzi scheme.
Ms. Bennett, 56, who formerly operated Bennett Financial Group Services in Chevy Chase, Md., was found guilty in October of all charges against her, including conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud and making false statements on a loan application.
She received the maximum sentence in addition to five years of supervised probation upon her release.
Judge Paula Xinis ordered that Ms. Bennett must pay restitution of $14.5 million and forfeiture of $14.3 million.
"Dawn Bennett knowingly defrauded retirees of their life's savings — most of which she used for her own personal benefit," said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur. "She's been held accountable for her lies and theft, and will now spend years in federal prison."
According to the evidence presented at trial last year, between December 2014 and April 2017, Ms. Bennett solicited individuals to invest money in her Internet clothing business, offering an annual interest rate of 15% via convertible or promissory notes.
In order to entice individuals to invest, Ms. Bennett made false and misleading statements, including: the risks of investing in DJB Holdings; how investors' funds would be used; and that the loans were liquid and guaranteed by DJB Holdings' inventory and assets, and by Ms. Bennett herself.
Witnesses testified that Ms. Bennett concealed the true financial condition of her companies from investors. She convinced several investors to withdraw a significant portion of their retirement accounts to invest in, and loan money to, her companies.
The evidence showed that Ms. Bennett misappropriated investor funds, using them to fund a lavish lifestyle, pay her personal legal expenses, and repay previous investors with funds she received from new investors.
Prosecutors charged that Ms. Bennett used the funds to pay for a luxury suite at the Dallas Cowboys' football stadium, to pay a website operator to arrange for priests in India to perform religious ceremonies to ward off federal regulators, to purchase astrological gems and for cosmetic medical procedures.
Ms. Bennett's co-defendant, Bradley Mascho, age 52, of Frederick, Md., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and to making a false statement.
Mr. Mascho faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. As part of his plea agreement, Mr. Mascho is required to pay restitution in the full amount of the victim's losses, which is at least $5.7 million, minus amounts repaid with money not derived from his criminal conduct, but in no event less than $3.6 million.
Mr. Mascho is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 28.