GUNNISON One by one, a few of the hundreds of Val Southwick's victims told their stories of shattered lives and destroyed dreams.
"The car that I drove down here was determined by what Val had taken away from us," said Gerold Bell, a Provo man who lost everything in Southwick's scheme alongside other family members. "When we stop at a restaurant, we have to select according to what we can afford because we lost our retirement from Val."
As his victims spoke at his first parole hearing on Tuesday, Southwick sat at a table with his hands pursed together. In front of him were hundreds of letters sent to the parole board from other victims pleading that he never be released.
"From the center of my being as God as my witness, the remorse is all consuming," he said, tearing up. "I sincerely and simply apologize to them for my actions and the agony I have caused them."
After being sentenced to nine consecutive one-to-15 year terms for securities fraud in one of the biggest schemes in state history, Southwick appeared before the parole board just six months after being sent here to the Central Utah Correctional Facility. It was an obligatory hearing, parole board hearing officer Andy Taylor told a nervous crowd gathered to speak out against Southwick's release.
"That should maybe calm your fears that he might be getting out tomorrow," he said.
Investigators said Southwick swindled more than 800 people out of at least $140 million in a Ponzi scheme that lasted more than 20 years. Taylor said Southwick created 150 companies dubbed "VesCor," raising $180 million from investors for property developments.
Southwick lured investors with promises of high returns and traded on his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, emphasizing that he was a "respectable LDS gentleman, who was more concerned about the consequences of the after-life than those in this life if he lied to investors," the Utah Division of Securities said in an investigative report.
Adam Titus once worked for Southwick, sold him property and lent him $1.1 million that's now gone.
"He said to me at the time that we probably do not need to have a contract at all," he said. "We can just go to the temple together and we can consummate our transaction there."
Pressed to confirm the details, Southwick was pleasant and polite, often answering with only: "Essentially that is correct, sir." He said he didn't realize he was in trouble until 2002 and tried to explain the financial transactions, prompting Taylor to interrupt him at one point to say: "Let's keep it simple."
Southwick admitted what he did was wrong, something his victims said he never did before.
"They're definitely out their money," Southwick said, adding that be believed there was a chance he could recover it but he didn't elaborate. He never said where the money went.
Since coming to prison, Taylor accused Southwick of trying to work the system by claiming he had legal papers and needed to meet with his lawyers. It was really his wife and a friend. He denied a trustee's report that Southwick has been totally uncooperative in helping to recover more than $100 million.
"Butch Cassidy couldn't hold a candle to Val Southwick," said Brad Hatch, who was swindled by Southwick.
At age 63, Southwick said he is reflecting on his mortality and infamy, noting the irony that he is in prison where he gets meals, medical care and shelter provided while some of his victims go without.
"There is nothing I can do in here to make a meaningful contribution towards restitution," Southwick said. "Financial recompense is the cry I see screaming with agony from the victims' statements."
With that, Southwick asked for release for an opportunity to "right wrongs."
"I only ask that you set a length of incarceration that you deem appropriate according to the seriousness and magnitude of my crimes," he said.