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Jury finds fraudster guilty in commodities trading scam

Published August 6, 2014 7:23 pm

Courts • Robert L. Holloway's attorney claimed while flawed, his client didn't break the law.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Accused fraudster Robert L. Holloway is deceptive, tragically flawed, foolish, irrational, grandiose, silly, wrong, histrionic, reckless and stupid. And that's just what his attorney said of him.

A federal court jury seemed to agreed on many of those points, including one more: They found Holloway guilty Wednesday evening at the end of a weeklong trial on five charges of fraud and filing a false tax return.

Holloway, a former Utah resident, faces up to 20 years in prison on his conviction of four counts of wire fraud and three years on the one count of tax evasion.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby set sentencing for Oct. 20 and ordered Holloway jailed until that hearing.

Holloway was accused of lying to investors in his commodity trading program and then losing $10.5 million of their money in bad trades. He was indicted in December 2011 after his Utah-based U.S. Ventures company collapsed under the weight of heavy trading losses. He had sold investors on promises of returns of as much as 5 percent a month using a special software program.

But evidence presented during the weeklong trial in federal court in Salt Lake City showed Holloway lost tens of thousands of dollars within days of starting to trade. He then began operating the business as a Ponzi scheme and siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses, with purchases including a diamond-encrusted watch for himself costing $57,000 and a $25,000 diamond necklace for his wife.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Burt told the jury during closing arguments that Holloway had lied to investors by creating false daily reports that showed their investments were making money when he was actually losing tens of thousands of dollars.

"Robert Holloway lied every single day," Burt told the jury. "He lied because no one would have given him their money if they had known the truth."

Burt pointed to emails that Holloway sent to associates in which he admitted wrongdoing and said he could go to jail. In one he said the company was operating "a Ponzi deal by taking clients' money and paying out salaries and distribution."

The emails and other evidence left defense attorney Kevin Murphy with little room to dispute the evidence. So he told jurors in his closing argument that while Holloway had hurt investors, his actions did not constitute a crime under federal law.

"Terrible things happened as a result of my client's conduct," Murphy said. "But, once again, that's not enough under the law."

Still, Murphy did admit that Holloway had deceived people in order to get them to invest. But he pointed to, among other things, Holloway's grandiose, fantastic vision of himself and a knack for self-deception and said Holloway also worked tirelessly to try to make back the money lost trading.

As proof of his client's fanciful thinking, Murphy told the jury one of Holloway's theories.

"Once again, this is a guy who thought he would cure AIDS using goats," said Murphy.

Another defendant, Houston attorney Robert Andres, pleaded guilty last year to five charges. Andres, who funneled millions of dollars to U.S. Ventures, testified against Holloway. His sentencing is set for Sept. 15.

tharvey@sltrib.com