Gig Harbor, Wash. Woman Sentenced For Role In Las Vegas Investment Fraud Scheme
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A Gig Harbor woman has been sentenced to six months in prison for participating in an investment fraud scheme that bilked over 50 victims out of millions in cash for almost a decade, announced U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden for the District of Nevada.
Constance C. Fenton, 70, was sentenced on March 2, 2015, in Las Vegas, by U.S. District Judge Jennifer A. Dorsey. Fenton was also sentenced to six months of home confinement, three years of supervised release, 40 hours of community service, and ordered to pay approximately $2.9 million in restitution. Fenton pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. She must report to federal prison by June 2, 2015.
Fenton was one of six persons charged in the investment fraud scheme. According to the plea memoranda, the defendants lured victims into the scheme by falsely telling them that Thomas A. Cecrle, Jr., 57, of Henderson, Nev., worked as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, purchasing and selling water rights worth millions of dollars as part of a secret government program. The conspirators then solicited money by falsely claiming that Cecrle needed short-term cash loans to complete his phantom water deals, loans he promised to repay in short order along with a very large return. Cecrle and his co-conspirators concocted a similar story involving a land deal on the Las Vegas Strip where Cecrle needed short-term loans to supposedly close a deal with Sir Richard Branson. In truth, however, Cecrle held no position with the federal government and there were no land or water rights deals.
Fenton became the voice of the fraud and ran Cecrle’s “boiler room.” As new victims were introduced to the scheme, Cecrle turned them over to Fenton, who quickly established a rapport over the telephone, maintained contact and commiserated with them when the payout never happened, but always reassuring them that it would happen soon if a little more money was poured into the deal. Fenton also told the victims that she was invested and like them, was also expecting a return. Fenton portrayed herself as a religious person and often appealed to the religious beliefs of the victims. Fenton dealt with victims across the United States, at all time of the day and night and, with few exceptions, always by telephone and email, never meeting them face-to-face.
Using his office as a family court judge in Clark County, Nev., defendant Steven E. Jones, 57, of Henderson, Nev., knowingly vouched for Cecrle and the legitimacy of the deals to potential investors when he knew the deals were, in fact, scams. Jones continued to further the conspiracy by receiving money from a victim in the parking lot of the Family Division Courthouse, meeting with at least one potential investor in his chambers and elsewhere in the courthouse to discuss the investment, obtaining an “Own Recognizance” bond to release Cecrle from custody after he was arrested for bad checks he had passed to a victim, and opening and maintaining a joint checking account with Cecrle, through which flowed over $260,000 in illegal proceeds.
During the entire conspiracy, which lasted from about September 2002 to October 2012, the defendants defrauded at least 22 victims of more than $2.6 million, money they quickly converted to their own use.
All of the co-defendants pleaded guilty and have been sentenced. Cecrle was sentenced on March 2, 2015, to 6½ years in prison. Jones was sentenced on Feb. 25, 2015, to 26 months in prison. Terry J. Wolfe, 59, of Henderson, Nev., was sentenced on Feb. 19, 2015, to time served, having served approximately 16 months in pretrial detention. Mark L. Hansen, 56, of Corvallis, Ore., was sentenced on Jan. 27, 2015, to four months in prison. Ashlee M. Martin, 31, of Las Vegas, Nev., entered into a 12-month pretrial diversion agreement with the government.
The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel R. Schiess of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada.
This prosecution is part of efforts underway by President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Obama established the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. The task force includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch, and with state and local partners, to investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes. For more information about the task force visit: www.stopfraud.com.