Local man sentenced to federal prison for bilking couple he went to church with out of $250K

Stock image | Photo by Svitlana Unuchko/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A St. George resident will serve 24 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in connection with a financial fraud scheme in which he took advantage of a couple who attended the same church as him.

2019 file photo of the interior of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Gregory Moats Sampson, 46, was sentenced during a hearing held in U.S. District Court last week after pleading guilty to the charge in February.

In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Magistrate David Nuffer ordered the defendant to pay $250,000 in restitution to the couple and to serve 36 months of supervised release once he finishes out his sentence.

According to federal prosecutors, the scheme came about when Sampson met the couple in 2012 while acting as their real estate agent. With $250,000 to invest after the sale of the couple’s home in Australia, the defendant offered to help them invest the funds, telling them he had experience in investments and had helped others in the past.

With limited investment knowledge or experience, the couple “believed they could trust Sampson based on other relationships they had” with him and trusted him when he told them they would see a return of $1 million within 10 years if they worked with him and would also receive stock certifications in a company, according to the indictment filed in federal court in February of last year.

He even told them he would provide investment services to them free of charge “since they were friends,” court documents state.

In February 2014, the couple wrote a check for $250,000 to Sampson’s business account, and the proceeds were to be earmarked for their retirement.

Instead of investing the funds as promised, Sampson spent the money for his own personal use, including $98,000 that he used to pay off a personal loan. He also admittedly transferred $82,000 to a company owned by his brother and another $20,000 to a company he owned that had nothing to do with an investment.

Within a month, the couple’s entire investment of $250,000 was gone, federal prosecutors said.

When the couple asked for documentation of the portfolio investments, Sampson failed to provide any, and instead, he continued to tell them their investment was performing well.

U.S. Attorney’s Office on South Main in Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo courtesy of Google Maps, St. George News

When the suspect was finally confronted by the couple who demanded documentation or their money back, federal prosecutors say Sampson told them they would be the ones who would “get screwed in the deal.” He also told the couple that he had to protect his own assets and “was not going anywhere — I promise you,” as recounted in the documents, adding that he had enough money to “disappear” if he needed to.

U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said in the statement that while “many of our federal fraud prosecutions focus on losses in the millions,” in this particular case, he warned fraudsters operating in Utah to “take note of the stiff penalties that await them in smaller cases, as well.”

Huber went on to say, “There is no sweet spot in fraud loss where schemers can fly under the radar and get away with it.” And once again, he cautioned investors to be aware of the risks associated with big promises from purported friends and neighbors.

Government attempts 

Before the indictment was filed, federal prosecutors attempted to negotiate with Sampson and even offered to recommend a year in federal prison if the defendant “would only return the victims’ money,” according to court documents reflecting the government’s position that were filed Sept. 1.

Rather than resolve the case at that point, Sampson entered a plea of “not guilty,” and for the next year, the case moved through the federal court system. It was only when his trial was but a few weeks away that Sampson “suddenly had a change of heart” and changed his plea — an action that “consumed substantial government resources,” according to the prosecutor, even though his “victims have waited years for justice.”

In regard to restitution, the government asked the court to award the $40,000 profit made by the defendant and his wife when they recently sold their “half-million-dollar house,” which would be turned over to the couple within seven days of the sentencing hearing. The sentence also includes an enhancement for causing substantial hardship to the couple.

This is one of several recent federal cases involving fraud filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Last week, a Washington City man, Nan Ma, 37, a Chinese citizen with legal permanent residency in the U.S., was indicted in federal court on three counts of wire fraud and six counts of money laundering. The charges were filed against the defendant for awarding lucrative contracts to Chinese companies and receiving kickbacks that he used to purchase a luxurious house and expensive cars, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court.

Also last week, a Salt Lake City resident Michael Leroi Douros, 64, pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud, two counts of making a false statement to a bank and money laundering after pleading guilty to the charges in U.S. District Court Sept. 2. Those charges were filed in connection with fraudulent representations he made to get a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Last month, Kurt Jurgens Bauer, 56, a former Kane County resident, was indicted on three counts of wire fraud and other charges filed in federal court in St. George. Bauer is accused of soliciting money from elderly individuals by promising he was on the verge of receiving hundreds of millions of dollars.

During a hearing held in federal court in July, Thomas Robbins, 65, of Heber City, pleaded guilty to securities fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, admitting to bilking more than $10 million from his victims by running a fraudulent foreign currency day-trading business.

This report is based on federal court records and statements and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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