‘Baron’ Sentenced in Fraud Case
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ For 17 years, a self-described Austrian baron and his wife bilked investors out of as much as $12 million to boost their own wealth and become members of society’s elite.
On Tuesday, as the some of their victims looked on, each was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison for robbing would-be entrepreneurs of their life savings.
``They directly took money from me and caused me to spend a lot of additional money ... as surely as if they had put a gun to my head,″ said Robert Barros of Little Rock, Ark., who lost his retirement fund.
Otto von Bressensdorf and wife Elena, along with an employee of their Lyons Capital Inc., Barbara M.H. Lichtenberg, were convicted of 27 counts each of mail fraud, conspiracy and money laundering in June. Another employee, Richard H. Perkins Jr., was convicted of seven counts of mail fraud and one of conspiracy.
Lichtenberg and Perkins were scheduled to be sentenced today.
U.S. District Judge Robert Payne told von Bressensdorf that he ``took advantage of the offering of this country to perpetrate frauds on other citizens of this country.″
``You were living a high and wonderful lifestyle at their expense,″ the judge added.
Under terms of his sentencing, von Bressensdorf will be deported to Germany when his prison term ends.
Payne approved the government’s request to use proceeds from the sale of the von Bressensdorfs’ seized assets to compensate victims.
Von Bressensdorf, 72, and his 51-year-old wife have forfeited nearly $1 million to the government. Last weekend, the couple’s 18-room Tudor-style estate overlooking the James River in Richmond was sold at auction for $590,000. Its contents also were sold.
Prosecution witnesses testified that for fees as high as $30,000, Lyons Capital promised to find investors. Instead, prosecutors say, von Bressensdorf pocketed the fees and did little or nothing to find investors.
In a statement before the sentence was imposed, von Bressensdorf admitted he occasionally lied to clients but denied committing a crime.
``I would never do this if I would know it is a fraud,″ he said in heavily accented English. ``My credibility is destroyed. I have no future. I am completely penniless and have no income.″
Mrs. von Bressensdorf said she was just a manager, unaware she was committing crimes.
Some witnesses testified that von Bressensdorf claimed to be an Austrian nobleman following in the footsteps of several generations of investment bankers. Von Bressensdorf also claimed he was a resistance fighter against the Nazis in World War II and a player in the disbursement of Marshall Plan funds after the war.
But documents seized by authorities described von Bressensdorf as an Italian-born member of a German tank division who was taken prisoner during the war. Afterwards, he became a textile merchant, the documents said.