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Judge orders 10 years for Draper man who led massive Ponzi scheme

Published: Friday, Jan. 6 2012 8:10 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of rows of Eagle Scouts in court to support a former Scoutmaster-turned-criminal might have backfired against a convicted Ponzi scheme operator Friday.

"Only time will tell whether he was a good scoutmaster or a bad example," U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups said after several friends and family members pleaded for leniency in the sentencing of 48-year-old Travis L. Wright.

Waddoups sent Wright to federal prison for 10 years, which is more than the eight years previously agreed upon by attorneys in the case and rejected by the judge in July.

Federal guidelines for mail fraud, the charge to which Wright pleaded guilty, allow for up to 15 years in prison. Waddoups said he reduced the sentence due to Wright's unprecedented cooperation with the investigation.

Wright managed Waterford Funding, a real estate loan fund that promised returns ranging from 8 percent to 44 percent over nine months. In doing so, he bilked more than 175 investors out of more than $145 million, according to court documents.

The Draper businessman is said to have spent more than $15 million on his own lavish lifestyle, including an expensive home, luxury cars and international travel.

Waddoups said failing to deliver on the investment may have been an honest mistake, as friends and family claimed Friday, but "evidence suggests it was much more than that."

If Wright had been living modestly, Waddoups said, he would have been more compassionate. But a $5 million home, $4 million in credit card expenses, $2.4 million for jewelry, furniture and artwork, $1.3 million in spending money for his wife and  $850,000 LDS Church tithing, showed Wright was "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

"One cannot look at these numbers and conclude this was someone acting in the best interest of investors," Waddoups said.

Wright is also ordered to pay $43.2 million in restitution to his victims, most of whom are elderly.

Michael Bodell, a part-owner of a local construction firm, just turned 62 and planned to retire this year but can't after losing more than $2.2 million.

"Travis Wright shattered that dream," he told the judge, adding that he believes Wright's actions were "purposeful" and "calculated."

Several Waterford investors cried in front of the judge while begging for Wright to receive the maximum sentence.

"I'm one of a handful of people who can truly say they lost it all," said Daniel Humphrey, a financial investment adviser who lost his own money and that of numerous clients who invested in Wright's program between 2001 and 2009. "I've lost a lifetime of self-confidence."

Others who were jilted by the fraud, including some of Wright's brothers and sisters, agreed prison time was necessary, but said that being a good person prior to the misdeeds should be enough to keep Wright from a maximum sentence.

"No additional time in prison is going to invite people with bad feelings to be more forgiving," said Martin Lamborne, a Waterford investor and friend of Wright. He said Wright had helped dozens of young men — some of whom were at court Friday — to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

Wright has eight weeks to self-surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, and will likely serve time at a federal correctional facility in California.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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