Judge: No to probation, yes to prison for Utah scammer
A skeptical judge overturned a recommendation for a light sentence Friday, sending a man to prison after a prosecutor's impassioned plea that the state was awash in financial fraud and a message needed to be sent.
A Salt Lake County Sheriff's deputy cuffed Shawn H. Moore's hands behind his back and led him out of the courtroom after 3rd District Judge Katie Bernards-Goodman said he had caused harm to numerous Utahns in helping Ogden businessman Val Southwick operate VesCor. The company turned out to be a long-running fraud that cost investors more than $180 million.
Bernards-Goodman rejected the sentencing recommendation by the Department of Corrections Adult Probation and Parole Office, whose specifics were not disclosed but apparently called for probation instead of prison. She sentenced Moore to 1-to-15 years on five second-degree felonies and 0-to-5 years on four third-degree felonies, the sentences to run concurrently.
The judge also snapped at Moore, 45, for claiming he was only following Southwick's directions in helping operate what turned out to be a huge Ponzi scheme in which monies from new investors were used to make payments to earlier ones to make it appear the operation was a going concern and could continue to attract new funding.
"I just find the level of naivety that he expects me to think he has as unbelievable," said Bernards-Goodman, who read from letters of victims who had lost their retirement savings by investing in VesCor through Moore.
Moore's attorney, Kenneth R. Brown, told the judge that probation would allow the Centerville man to pay back his victims and that he would use his own retirement savings and all his salary at his current job to do so.
But that offer also prompted another rebuff from the judge.
"His statements about restitution, they ring hollow for me," Bernards-Goodman said. "This came down in 2006, yet I haven't seen him selling his house. I haven't seen him saving up the money in these years to pay back these people."
Her sentence came after a plea for prison from Assistant Attorney General Che Arguello, who pointed out that VesCor was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, financial frauds in the history of a state that finds itself being swallowed up in a wave of scams.
"Fraud is rampant in our society, particularly rampant because we are caring, trusting, loving people," he said. "That's what makes this a wonderful state. But the fact is, that's what makes it a fertile ground for fraud."
In arguing against probation, Arguello pointed out that the jury took only two hours in February to convict Moore, and that included lunch. Moore was directly responsible for investors losing $500,000, he said, and probation was not appropriate.
"In a society that's rampant with fraud, we send a message that you sit and defraud people of hundreds of thousands of dollars and get the privilege of probation, when everyone in this courtroom knows that people convicted on far less matters are sitting behind bars," Arguello argued.
Prosecutors have said Moore would be the last person facing criminal charges in the VesCor case.
Southwick is serving nine back-to-back prison terms of 1-to-15 years each after he pleaded guilty in 2008 to nine fraud charges. St. George resident Bill Hammons also was convicted and sentenced to a year in jail for funneling millions of dollars from investors into VesCor.