The Troy Stratos trial had been anticipated for months at the federal courthouse in downtown Sacramento, with former New York Giants defensive end and television talk show host Michael Strahan expected to be the first of several celebrities called to testify.
Instead, Stratos, a self-described “filmmaker” and convicted con man, pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he stole millions from model Nicole Murphy – Strahan’s ex-fiance and the former wife of comedian Eddie Murphy.
The guilty plea comes 15 months after a jury convicted Stratos of an $11 million fraud involving Facebook stock and ends the prospect of a star-studded legal event at Fifth and I streets.
Instead, Stratos, who has been in custody since his December 2011 arrest, will remain in jail awaiting sentencing in November in both cases.
Prosecutors said he stole as much as $10 million from his onetime childhood friend – most of it money that she received in her divorce settlement – and spent it on a lavish lifestyle that included leasing a Lamborghini, a Rolls-Royce and other exotic cars, and buying a $50,000 grand piano.
Stratos, 50, could end up spending most of the rest of his life in prison, depending on the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley.
“It would have been a terribly difficult trial,” Stratos attorney Tom Johnson said after court, noting that the guilty plea was “in his best interests.”
Stratos already faced decades in prison from his 2015 conviction, and prosecutors were not interested in negotiating a deal in the Murphy case, Johnson said.
As a result, Stratos entered the guilty plea without a plea agreement. At one point Wednesday, Nunley halted the proceedings while Stratos appeared to question some of the facts the prosecution was describing.
“I think he just had some questions when he was going over the facts again …” co-counsel Kristy Kellogg said. “He had some concerns.”
After a 15-minute recess, Stratos agreed he had committed the crimes and pleaded guilty to 11 counts of wire and mail fraud, two counts of money laundering and one count of obstruction of justice.
Johnson said after court that “it would have been too much to overcome” the testimony for the government of former Stratos employees and victims if trial had gone forward.
Stratos, a Sacramento Country Day School graduate known as Troy Stafford until he turned 21, was raised in Fair Oaks by his grandparents.
At some point, he developed a taste for wealth and a knack for self-promotion that included boasts of hobnobbing with the Hollywood elite and traveling the world, court documents say. He once described a trip to Egypt to see the remains of King Tut and meet actor Omar Sharif at the Cairo Four Seasons Hotel.
In the United States, Stratos spent freely on himself, renting a $14,000-a-month penthouse in Marina Del Ray and a $9,000-a-month home in Venice Beach that he used as work space.
He told acquaintances and victims he was independently wealthy, that he made a fortune in films, oil and high-tech stocks.
Prosecutors say much of his wealth was derived from Nicole Murphy and her August 2005 divorce from her comedian husband.
Nicole Murphy, whom Stratos said Wednesday he has known for 34 years, agreed to let him manage her money after he promised to invest it in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, where she would benefit from a high rate of return, and he would keep the earnings in a Swiss bank account, prosecutors said.
He also told her he could arrange to sell the Granite Bay mansion she once shared with Eddie Murphy to Middle Eastern royalty.
Instead, prosecutors say, he moved into the home in the Los Lagos development – which featured 10 bedroom suites and 14 bathrooms – and later persuaded her to refinance it and another home her mother owned in Sacramento.
The proceeds from those two transactions – more than $1 million – went to Stratos rather than Murphy, prosecutors said.
Johnson, who has represented Stratos since his conviction last year, acknowledged that his client faces a trying time.
“He is in a difficult place,” Johnson said. “He’s facing a couple decades in prison. He doesn’t have many friends or family.”