Federal prosecutors are arguing that a Maryland Ponzi schemer should be sentenced to 32 years in prison, longer than the average prison term for murder and racketeering, kidnapping and the sentence imposed on the fraudster CEO of Enron, reports the Baltimore Sun. Victims of millionaire businessman Kevin Merrill, 54, who cheated wealthy investors, retirees, small-business owners, doctors and former professional athletes will testify in U.S. District Court in Baltimore about the financial harm they suffered. “As a retiree, 38 percent of our retirement funds have been negatively impacted,” a man identified as J.M. wrote the court. “Devastating at 74 years old and for my 72 year old wife. We have spent our lifetimes and 53 years of marriage working and saving for these retirement funds and security.”
Merrill pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud. Federal prosecutors say he carried out one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in Maryland history. They say his investors around the world lost $189 million; his defense attorneys put losses at $142 million. Merrill’s attorneys call the recommended 32 years in prison “grossly disproportionate.” Public defenders Elizabeth Oyer and Maggie Grace noted former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison for the accounting schemes that cost shareholders billions of dollars. The attorneys said a 32-year prison sentence for Merrill would exceed national averages for murder and racketeering, 18 years; child pornography, 12 years; and kidnapping, 18 years. They are asking U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett to impose a sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Merrill’s Investors believed they were buying “consumer debt portfolios,” bundles of debt on student loans, credit cards and car loans. Instead, the partners were shifting money from new investors to old investors, while skimming millions off the top.