In a scathing rebuke of convicted fraudster Troy Stratos, a federal judge Monday denounced him as a “psychopath” and a “con man,” then packed him off to prison with a sentence of nearly 22 years.
Stratos, 50, is accused by federal prosecutors of stealing more than $43 million over the years from investors, wealthy individuals, hotel doormen and limousine drivers. One of his victims was Nicole Murphy, the ex-wife of comedian Eddie Murphy, who appeared in federal court in Sacramento on Monday for his sentencing and tearfully denounced him as a “disgusting” predator who took more than $10 million she received in her divorce settlement.
“All along, he was just there to steal my money,” Murphy said as she wept. “He was there to steal my children’s money. He ruined my life.”
Murphy’s statement, which she read to the court from a cellphone she was clutching as she sometimes looked angrily at Stratos, was part of a 3 1/2 -hour hearing before U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley to sentence Stratos for wire fraud, mail fraud and obstruction of justice in a crime spree dating back more than a decade.
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Stratos, who began to weep quietly 40 minutes into the hearing and later cried openly, apologized to the judge, victims in the courtroom and others as he pleaded for a sentence that would give him a chance of someday leaving prison.
“After what I’ve heard today in this courtroom, I can’t ask for mercy,” Stratos said, then proceeded to do so.
Describing himself as once an “arrogant, pompous, fraudulent man,” Stratos said he now considers himself changed.
He read quotes from South African apartheid opponent Nelson Mandela and made reference to the violent people he has lived with in jail for the past five years awaiting the outcome of his cases. He added that he had “no idea the path of destruction” his crimes would cause his victims, but said that once he wins release, he will work to redeem himself.
He described himself as “broken” by his circumstances.
“Your honor, I’m not that guy that I used to be,” Stratos said. “I’m not that guy who didn’t have a conscience.”
Nunley was having none of it.
Citing his years as a judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer, Nunley looked at Stratos and told him sternly, “I can tell you when I see a con.”
“Let’s face it, he fits,” the judge added. “He doesn’t have a conscience.”
Stratos sat at the defense table crying openly at times and dabbing his face with a tissue during the dressing down.
“He has no empathy,” the judge announced. “He sits here crying now, but you know what? He doesn’t care.”
Nunley also rejected the notion that Stratos was truly remorseful for what he has done. “He’s not sorry for what he did,” the judge said. “He’s sorry he got caught. You know what he’d be doing right now if he hadn’t gotten caught? Defrauding someone.
“He’s where he needs to be.”
Prosecutors had asked for a 30-year term, arguing that the scope of his crime required such a lengthy punishment.
Even after Nunley made it clear he wasn’t prepared to go that far, Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Pickles urged the judge to sentence him to at least 27 years, saying he had squandered his victims’ cash on “ridiculous displays of decadence.”
Pickles, who prosecuted Stratos along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dolan, also ridiculed Stratos’ remarks to the court.
“We just saw Mr. Stratos try to work the room, con the court and con everyone,” Pickles told the judge.
Stratos’ defense attorney, Tom Johnson, had argued for a nine-year sentence, noting that Stratos pleaded guilty to the Murphy fraud without a plea agreement in place.
“I don’t know what more Mr. Stratos has to say in terms of admitting that he is guilty,” Johnson said, arguing that prosecutors were seeking too harsh a sentence.
“He’s going to prison for a couple of decades, and yet it’s not enough for them,” Johnson added. “You know what he is? He’s a 50-year-old man completely broken, and they want the rest of his life for this?
“Is this a case where you give him a life sentence?”
Stratos’ protests that he was a changed man could not overcome the emotion evoked by three written statements from victims who recounted how Stratos had stolen their life savings.
The most searing moments came when Murphy, a model, actress and businesswoman, rose to address the man she had known since the two were teenagers growing up in the Sacramento area. “I believed that he was my friend,” she said later, in an interview outside.
Murphy alternately wept and seethed with anger as she denounced Stratos in court.
“It kills me to see this man right now,” she said, recounting how she had lost homes, cars and savings for her parents and children through his fraud.
Stratos, who declared in court that he “was in love” with Murphy, contacted her after her split with Eddie Murphy and offered to help her get through the divorce, she said.
He promised to invest her money overseas and boasted of his own wealth. Instead, prosecutors say, he bled her finances dry, blowing the money on luxury sports cars, trips to Las Vegas and a Christmas party that included a snow leopard and boxes of gaming consoles handed out to guests.
Stratos pleaded guilty to the Nicole Murphy fraud and was convicted separately of stealing more than $11 million from an East Coast investor in a Facebook stock scam he cooked up after he spent Murphy’s money.