CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – University economist Albert Eugene Parish was sentenced Thursday to 24 years and four months in prison for stealing nearly $70 million from more than 500 investors in a Ponzi investment scheme.
Parish, who taught economics at Charleston Southern University, spent investors’ money on everything from collectable garden gnomes to flashy cars to clown paintings by comedian Red Skelton. He faced more than 30 years in prison, but received the minimum sentence under federal guidelines.
Chief Judge David Norton also ordered Parish to pay $66 million in restitution to his investors.
At the conclusion of a day-long sentencing hearing, during which 17 of Parish’s one-time investors spoke of their grief and financial loses, Norton said he could believe that Parish had not intended to defraud people when he started investing others’ money in the late 1990s, but also pointed out that in March 2007, at a time when he knew he was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Parish accepted a $175,000 check from a pair of elderly investors.
“You knew it was over and yet you still took the money,” Norton said.
Parish’s Ponzi scheme fell apart in early 2007, after the SEC audited Battery Wealth Management, a local firm that helped market Parish’s alleged financial acumen. He was charged in April 2007 and pleaded guilty in October in a deal that reduced the number of fraud charges against him from 10 to three.
Parish was immediately taken into federal custody following his sentencing. With credit for good behavior, Parish’s sentence could be reduced to slightly less than 21 years in prison.