Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh investment adviser was sentenced Friday to 40 years in federal prison for bilking clients in an elaborate Ponzi scheme.
Stephen Condon Peters, 46, who owns VisionQuest Wealth Management, also was ordered to pay $15 million back to the investors.
“You lost your way. Greed consumed you,” U.S. District Judge James Dever III told Peters, calling the fraud “systematic, prolonged deceit.”
Federal authorities said Peters promised investors returns of 8 to 9 percent a year on low-risk investments. Some turned over their retirement accounts to him, but prosecutors say he diverted $6 million to his own personal use, including buying a horse farm near Lake Wheeler and a luxury villa in Costa Rica, and used other money to pay off earlier investors.
During a three-week trial in May and June, former VisionQuest employees testified that they lied to clients and forged documents under Peters’ direction. One former worker said he even agreed to secretly record conversations with Peters because he knew Peters was doing wrong and didn’t want to be part of it.
Employees also described how Peters set up a strategy to deceive federal investigators by forging and backdating disclosure forms for investors.
Peters disputed the allegations, saying he had made some bad investments but fully intended to make good on his client obligations. He insisted that other witnesses, including clients who lost money, had lied and that he made full disclosure of losses to clients and never instructed employees to falsify documents.
But a jury deliberated for less than two hours before convicting him on the following charges:
- investment adviser fraud
- fraud in the sale of unregistered securities
- nine counts of wire fraud
- four counts of engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property
- corruptly endeavoring to influence a federal agency
- aggravated identity theft
- conspiracy to make false statements and documents
- making and using false statements and documents
- falsifying and concealing documents during a Securities & Exchange Commission examination
Before he was sentenced, Peters said he regrets that clients lost money, but he expressed no remorse for his actions.
“I don’t think you’re sorry,” an obviously irritated Dever told Peters at the Friday sentencing.
The judge read the name of every client aloud in court, calling them “real people” whose hard work and dreams were stolen by Peters.
Melinda Evans and her family in Florida said they lost about $500,000 of their retirement savings by trusting Peters.
“I thought he’d get more than he did, but hey, Friday the 13th, 40 years, I’m happy,” Evans said.
Authorities seized many of Peters’ properties, including the horse farm, the Costa Rican villa, vehicles and watches, to be sold off to help repay investors.