Scammer Gets 18 Years for Penny-Stock Fraud Hatched From Prison

(Bloomberg) -- Edward Durante was in his 40s when he was first charged with swindling investors out of millions through a penny-stock scam. He could be an octogenarian by the time he finishes his latest term in federal prison.

Durante, 66, was sentenced to 18 years Tuesday for his latest scam, which prosecutors said he hatched while serving a decade-long term for another fraud. Durante pleaded guilty in August 2016 to using a network of brokers and investment advisers to sell shares in VGTel Inc., an online sweepstakes company, to defraud more than 100 investors out of more than $15 million.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter said a term consistent with federal sentencing guidelines, which called for 24 to 30 years, was "greater than necessary," but added there is a need to "promote adequate deterrence" given that the earlier 10-year sentence didn’t do that. He cited Durante’s cooperation with the government and urged him to take advantage of his opportunities while in prison.

"You have shown you are an intelligent person and have a great deal of charisma," Carter said.

Durante pleaded guilty in 2001 to using offshore companies he controlled to manipulate penny stocks. He was ordered to pay back $39 million. He was charged in December 2015 with the latest scam, which prosecutors say he started in prison in 2009. He agreed to forfeit more than $15 million.

"Durante returned to what he knew best, lying to investors -- many of whom were retirees who lost their life savings -- about how their money would be used, and concealing his manipulation of the securities market," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement.

Two of Durante’s co-conspirators were found guilty of securities fraud and other charges after a jury trial in March 2017. Three others pleaded guilty.

Durante’s attorney, Lee A. Ginsberg, said his client’s age was likely a main factor in the judge’s sentence.

"A sentence below the guidelines is substantial for someone who is 66 years old," Ginsberg said.

The case is U.S. v. Durante, 15-cr-171, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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