Business & Real Estate

Former Sacramento tennis team owner ordered to pay $108 million

Former Sacramento Capitals owner Deepal Wannakuwatte and his wife, Betsy, pose with Texas tennis-playing brothers Mike and Bob Bryan in July 2013.
Former Sacramento Capitals owner Deepal Wannakuwatte and his wife, Betsy, pose with Texas tennis-playing brothers Mike and Bob Bryan in July 2013. Sacramento Bee file

Deepal Wannakuwatte, the former professional tennis team owner who ran one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in Sacramento history, has been ordered to repay his victims $108.2 million.

The restitution order was signed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley. It was Nunley who sentenced Wannakuwatte to 20 years in prison last November.

It’s unlikely Wannakuwatte will be able to repay anywhere near that much. He listed assets totaling around $16 million when he filed for bankruptcy protection last spring. The bankruptcy was part of his agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to fraud charges.

His lawyer, Philip Cozens, said Friday that he’s spoken to bankruptcy court officials and “they seem to think they’re going to get something out of it.”

Prosecutors say Wannakuwatte duped scores of investors and bankers into pouring millions of dollars into a West Sacramento medical supply company whose revenue was just a fraction of what he claimed. He told them he had contractors worth $100 million to sell latex gloves to veterans’ hospitals, when in reality the contracts were worth just $25,000.

His victims included several banks, an Indian tribe in Washington state and an estimated 150 individuals, many in the Sacramento area.

Wannakuwatte had argued that his victims’ losses came to less than the government claimed. In court papers filed last November, he said the losses totaled somewhere between $50 million and $80 million.

The 64-year-old Wannakuwatte was owner of the Sacramento Capitals tennis team, which he moved to Las Vegas early last year because of the team’s frustrations with its stadium situation in Sacramento. After he was arrested in February 2014, the team was disbanded by World TeamTennis.

The league recently announced that its Texas franchise has been sold and will move to Sacramento for the upcoming season, ending Sacramento’s one-year absence from team tennis. The team, to be called the California Dream, will play in a stadium adjacent to Sunrise Mall, the same location vacated by the Capitals.

Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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