AP NEWS

Securities agent gets prison time for millions in fraud

July 23, 2018

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A former North Dakota securities and insurance agent was sentenced Monday to more than 11 years in federal prison for swindling about 40 people out of millions of dollars over a 15-year-period to finance a lavish lifestyle including purchases of a Ford Mustang convertible sports car and country club dues.

Kevin Wanner, 56, of Bismarck, also used the money from sham investments for home remodeling and private school tuition for his children, according to prosecutors who called Wanner’s actions “a case of ruthless victimization.”

“You can’t turn over a single stone in this case without finding someone who has been emotionally bludgeoned by Mr. Wanner,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Chase said.

Wanner, while working with two Minnesota-based brokerage companies between 2000 and 2015, took in about $5 million through sham investments, keeping $3 million for himself and paying out $2 million to his victims to keep the ponzi scheme going, according to prosecutors.

He was indicted in August 2017 and pleaded guilty in March to mail fraud and money laundering in a deal with prosecutors.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Weikum maintained Wanner’s gambling addiction was the root of his criminal activity, and he had Wanner’s addiction counselor testify on his behalf.

“He’s not a monster. He did a bad thing as a result of his illness,” counselor Lisa Voeller said.

Wanner was sentenced in a courtroom packed with both family members and victims, and some who were both.

Mark Wanner, who is no relation, testified how Wanner’s actions affected his elderly father and called Wanner “a son of a bitch.”

“You were a piranha in a goldfish tank,” he said.

Mike Booke, Kevin Wanner’s brother-in-law and also a victim, testified on his behalf, saying “as time goes on this is probably going to make him a better person.”

When given the chance, Wanner stood at the front of the courtroom and addressed both his family and victims, at times weeping uncontrollably.

“There isn’t a minute that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about what I’ve done,” he said. “I can’t imagine what I put you guys through.”

Wanner could have faced up to 30 years in prison. Weikum asked for two years, saying “there is no evidence before this court that he (Wanner) is a sociopath.”

Chase sought 11 years and three months, saying Wanner can’t “blame it all (on) the devil made him do it.”

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland granted the prosecution’s request, saying Wanner’s fraud scheme was “calculated and sophisticated.”

“It’s a long time, but there are a lot of victims that have been suffering for 15 years as well, and they’re going to continue to suffer,” the judge said.

Mark Wanner said outside of court that he was satisfied with the sentence. Weikum said he and his client had not decided on whether to appeal.

The North Dakota Securities Department last year reached settlements under which Minneapolis-based Questar Capital Corp. agreed to pay Wanner’s victims $2.4 million and Woodbury Financial Services Inc., of Oakdale, Minnesota, agreed to pay about $600,000.

Prosecutors maintain that while victims got back their investments, they lost the interest money they would have earned had their investments been legitimate.

Hovland ordered Wanner to forfeit about $3 million to the government, the amount of his ill-gotten gains. Terms of restitution will be decided later.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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