Vincent Singh, a Ponzi schemer who preyed on the members of his own ethnic Indian Fijian community in the Sacramento region, was sentenced Thursday to 15 years and eight months in federal prison.
In sentencing Singh, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. said his crimes were “the worst of their kind that I’ve seen in 12 years as a federal judge.”
Court papers show that over a three-year period, Singh cheated 190 people of Indian Fijian descent who are members of a small, tight-knit community in and around Sacramento, out of $22 million, then filed for bankruptcy protection.
Singh, a 46-year-old native of Fiji and former Elk Grove resident, pleaded guilty in March to wire and bankruptcy fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Segal, a top white-collar prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office, had trouble finding words to adequately describe for England the devastation left in the wake of Singh’s merciless quest to get every dime his victims possessed.
“He knew the situation of his victims,” Segal said. “He had been in their homes. They served him meals. He knew what the effect was going to be. He didn’t just take their money, he took their lives.”
The crimes were considered affinity fraud, which refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are — or pretend to be — members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the ruse.
These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups, it can be difficult for regulators or law enforcement officials to detect an affinity scam. Victims often fail to notify authorities.
Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.