13 Years for $52M Milking of Widow’s Trust

     ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — A federal judge on Monday sentenced former Alaska prosecutor Marc Avery to 13 years and four months in prison for defrauding an elderly widow’s trust of $52 million.
     This is the second trial and conviction for Avery, 56, related to wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering in connection with the May Smith Trust.
     Avery pleaded guilty in 2007 to similar charges and served a little over half of an 8 1/2-year sentence before it was thrown out by 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision on an unrelated issue. This time around, a federal jury convicted Avery of two additional crimes based on evidence gathered from an in-depth investigation into all of his business dealings involving the use of the trust money.
     The two new felonies persuaded U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline to sentence Avery to a time exceeding the 10-year cap the court initially placed on the case in 2014. Citing the new felonies as “different criminal activity” and that “this is a big crime and it can’t go unpunished,” Beistline also fined Avery $100,000 and ordered him to make restitution to the May Smith Trust in the amount of $46 million.
     Prosecutors said Avery masterminded what may be the biggest private financial scam the state of Alaska has ever seen. Avery spent $52 million in 2005 on homes, vintage airplanes, boats, RVs and personal loans over a six-month period.
     “This case is about trust and betrayal of trust,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder said at the start of the 11-day trial this past February.
     Throughout the trial, Avery and his defense team denied the allegations.
     “He did not lie or cheat to obtain the money,” Avery’s attorney Mike Dieni told jurors. “Trustees wanted to invest in an air charter as a new way to make money and to use themselves.”
     During the trial the defense also argued that Avery was duped by some of the people with whom he chose to go into business, including Rob “Commander” Kane. Kane, who liked to be called Commander despite no record of military service, told Avery he had worked as an informant for the FBI and the CIA and that he was former Navy seal “who had killed people,” Dieni said.
     Kane was found not guilty in a separate case involving federal weapons charges in 2006. The weapons in question were part of the cache of Czech-built military planes and associated weaponry that he and Avery purchased as part of their plan to secure federal security contracts.
     In addition to Kane, jurors heard testimony from 20 government witnesses and five from the defense, including Avery — who ultimately lost everything and went bankrupt after hiring 100 employees and building up Security Aviation and his charter companies.
     In an exchange of sentencing memos prior to Monday’s decision, the prosecution sought 20 years of prison time, while Avery’s lawyers portrayed him as a man taken advantage of and in need of mental health treatment rather than prison. Avery’s lawyers pointed to the 5 ½ years their client already served after the first trial.
     “More than 10 years after initiation of this case, and close to 500 court filings later, it is clear that Mark Avery’s greed, avarice, and sense of entitlement drove this crime,” U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki wrote in his sentencing memorandum.
     But Dieni argued that most of the trust’s money that Avery spent was for legitimate businesses, not personal enrichment, and that Avery has already lost his career as a lawyer, his wife and children, and all that he owned in Alaska.
     During sentencing, Beistline acknowledged he was torn about the appropriate sentence for Avery, whom he described as an “anomaly:” a successful attorney who later suffered from mental health issues with a “twisted” sense of reality.
     Even so, Beistline agreed that Avery had been competent to stand trial and that it was Avery who ultimately accessed the trust fund.
     In addition to the fine and prison time, the judge also required Avery to pay back $800 to an Anchorage woman who had signed up for Avery’s now-defunct medical training school.
     Avery is expected to spend several weeks in the Anchorage jail before being transferred to a California prison to serve his sentence.

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