PROVO An Alpine man who failed to return $20 million in investment capital after promising huge returns from a Beverly Hills development was sentenced Monday to five days in jail.
And that's exactly what nearly every one of his 300 victims wanted.
Michael J. Fitzgerald, 51, pleaded no contest in 2004 in 4th District Court to five felonies, including securities fraud, employing an unregistered securities agent and pattern of unlawful activity.
He took a plea in abeyance and was granted a sentencing extension, with the promise that he would develop a project in California called Clearview, sell it and and pay back the millions in restitution.
But the project hasn't moved, and four years and only $3 million later, prosecutor Chad Grunander said they've waited long enough.
"He's been given chance after chance," Grunander said. "Hopefully he has the means to pay these folks back. (But) if it wasn't for the victims and their desires, it would be an easy decision to seek prison."
Adult Probation and Parole recommended Fitzgerald spend 180 days in jail, but Judge Samuel McVey sentenced him to only five days in jail after listening to several hours of victim comments, nearly all of them asking for leniency and a possibility of getting their money back.
McVey also sentenced Fitzgerald to 15 years of supervised probation with the proviso that he pay back slightly more than $20.2 million. A review hearing on Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. will allow the judge to determine if progress is being made.
"I know that he has a good heart, that he has an intent to pay back all that has been lost," said Floy Harley, an investor. "I believe that with all my heart. I sincerely ask that the court will allow him the time to bring about this plan into fruition."
Fitzgerald quietly sobbed and wiped his eyes as he listened to the elderly woman address the judge.
"I just wanted to verbally express my faith and trust in Michael Fitzgerald," Harley finished.
Dozens of other victims addressed the court, mentioning that this money was their life savings, life-insurance policies from deceased spouses and everything they had.
"I knew that the money I had was very sacred, it was all I had to live on," said Tracy Padgett, a widow. "I walked the property with the engineer, I saw the value, I saw the documents on how it was being engineered. If you allow this proposal to go through, we will see our money. We ask that you consider the many people that have so much at stake."
E-MAIL: [email protected]