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Denver • Admitted Ponzi-schemer Shawn Merriman was sentenced Tuesday to 12½ years in prison during an emotion-filled hearing that included an appeal from his mother, one of his victims, to "make him pay."
About 30 victims of the former Mormon bishop's $20 million fraud packed a federal courtroom in downtown Denver for more than seven hours of testimony and arguments.
Six victims spoke to the court, expressing anger and outrage.
"He had me convinced he was an honest guy, that I could trust him. I put money in, and the rest is history. It's all gone," said Davis McCann of Parker, Colo., turning to Merriman. "I worked in construction for 20 years for $8 to $10 an hour. For every day I worked, you stole it from me. Every dime."
Merriman pleaded guilty in December to one count of mail fraud after surrendering to authorities in March 2009. He admitted to taking money from 67 investors and using it to fund a lavish lifestyle and to pay off initial investors with latter investors' money.
The government seized roughly $4 million in fine art, including Rembrandt prints, as well as antique cars, sports memorabilia and animal trophies collected on safari trips.
The assets remain in the government's hands but eventually will be auctioned, with proceeds going to victims.
The maximum sentence for the mail-fraud charge was 20 years, but Merriman's cooperation with investigators led the government to seek a sentence of 12½ years. Merriman's attorney asked the court for a sentence of just under six years.
U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Krieger rejected a key government claim that Merriman was not only a fund manager but an investment adviser, and thus deserved more time behind bars.
Krieger gave Merriman a harsher prison term than federal guidelines required, citing his betrayal of family, friends and LDS Church members, and the risk that he might reoffend. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said last year that Merriman had been excommunicated.
Under the sentence, Merriman will also face three years of supervision when he gets out of jail.
"These circumstances involve more than the theft of money from the victims," Krieger said. "He also has stolen their hopes and dreams and security."
"This was 14 years of criminal activity. I am not sure that Mister Merriman knows how to do anything but this," Krieger said.
In his remarks to the court before sentencing, Merriman apologized to investors and his family.
"I can never forget the look on my 9-year-old son's face when I told him what I had done. I broke his heart," he said.
"For too many years, I was too proud to admit my own shortcomings and my own mistakes," he said.