A Farmington man is going to prison for up to 15 years and must pay more than $6.2 million in restitution after pleading guilty to securities fraud that affected some 60 Utahns.
Philip T. Jessee was sentenced Monday by 3rd District Judge Sheila McCleve to two prison terms of up to 15 years, to run concurrently. He also must pay restitution, according to court documents and the State Department of Commerce's Division of Securities.
South Jordan resident Darlene Odenwalder, one of the victims in the case, praised the sentence, but wonders if she'll ever get any of her money back.
"I'm not sure he will ever learn his lesson," she said.
Jessee's defense attorney Scott A. Wilson had sought probation so that Jessee could have a chance to pay the victims back. Wilson said people lost money, but Jessee wasn't lining his pockets, and he had filed for bankruptcy three years ago. Wilson contends the sentence will cost taxpayers and will not allow Jesse to have opportunities for rehabilitation and making restitution.
"I just think that it was not to anyone's benefit," Wilson said of the sentence. "It's too easy to send someone to the penitentiary and wash your hands of it."
Jessee, according to a videotape of the court hearing, told the judge that he was in a high-commission job where he could earn $20,000 within a couple of months. He proposed investing that money in land that he said, upon development, could fetch about $400,000 to help repay victims.
The charges stemmed from Jessee's offering unregistered securities through Great Salt Lake Mortgage Co. and other companies, in violation of the Utah Securities Act, the securities division said. He approached investors primarily from Davis and Salt Lake counties between 1998 and 2005 and promised them a 17 percent to 19 percent rate of return.
"It seemed to be legitimate," said Odenwalder, who said she invested a "significant" amount and did her homework.
One investor lost $150,000 in retirement savings, some of which would have gone to care for his disabled child.
Jessee issued promissory notes allegedly secured by real estate, but which in reality lacked that security, the division said. He gave some investors trust deeds that weren't recorded with the government, and one carried a fake recorder's stamp.
Jessee stopped making payments to investors by January 2005, according to the division.
Odenwalder said that when she tried to get her money back, Jessee "just kind of disappeared."
Jessee was charged two years later with 10 counts of securities fraud, one count of communications fraud and another count of pattern of unlawful activity, all second-degree felonies, court documents show. Jessee in May pleaded guilty to two counts of securities fraud. The other charges were dismissed.
Keith Woodwell, director of the Utah Division of Securities, said the division was pleased with the judge's sentence and that Jessee would go directly to prison.
"Sadly, promissory note scams continue to come under our radar, so we urge investors to check out any offer or promoter with the Division of Securities to make sure your money is safe," Woodwell said.
Odenwalder said she has learned the hard way that there is truth in the old adage: buyer beware. Check references twice. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
"Utah is so susceptible to this," she said. "Maybe it's because we believe people have the same standards, the same ethics, as ourselves. You don't believe there's someone out there trying to get your money at every turn and will do everything he can, whether it's being the same religion you are, or being a neighbor or friend, or get into whatever clique, to take advantage."To check if someone offering investments is licensed, call the securities division at 800-721-7233 or online at www.securities.utah.gov.