BOSTON (CN) – A Cambodian-American who tried to arrange the murder of his prosecutor after conning at least $26 million from hundreds in his own ethnic group, many of whom survived the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, will likely spend his life in prison, according to a federal ruling.
In 2007, a federal jury in Boston convicted James Bunchan, of various counts arising from a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme conducted through his health and diet-supplement businesses, World Marketing Direct Selling (WMDS) and Oneuniverseonline (1UOL).
By playing on ethnic affinity and a history of shared suffering, Bunchan “gulled hundreds of fellow first-generation Cambodian-Americans (many of whom were survivors of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge) into believing that WMDS and 1UOL were legitimate franchises of the American Dream,” Judge Richard Stearns wrote.
But both were nothing more than Ponzi schemes, and Bunchan, 63, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Bunchan subsequently appealed the length of the sentence and the trial court’s restriction of his attempts to impeach Christian Rochon, whom Judge Stearns described as the man “who contributed [to the scam] a reassuring North American face decked out in a respectable business suit that Bunchan had purchased.”
Both appeals were rejected.
Bunchan then filed a habeas petition, claiming that his attorney refused to call as witnesses two lawyers who drafted founding documents for Bunchan’s sham corporations and should have found an interpreter to facilitate their communications.
The judge said the attorney’s actions were understandable.
“The facts that these witnesses would have added to the mix would have simply buttressed the evidence of the sophistication of the scheme,” Stearns wrote. “As the government points out, ‘Bunchan’s conviction for fraud did not depend on whether the theoretical legal framework for WMDS and 1UOL complied with multi-level marketing law.'”
Regarding the alleged language barrier, the judge pointed out that Bunchan admitted he spoke English and “had multiple opportunities to raise the issue – at pretrial hearings, during trial, at sentencing, or on direct appeal – but failed to do so.”
Even if the court had granted Bunchan’s petition to vacate his sentence for the direct marketing schemes, his behavior in prison led to a 25-year sentence on its own, with 20 of those years to be served after his first 35-year sentence.
While incarcerated, “Bunchan asked a fellow inmate if he knew anyone who could murder a government witness slated to testify at his trial.” Later, “on two separate occasions, Bunchan was recorded on video and audio tape discussing the details of the plan, including a list of the intended victims (among them the prosecutor in his case).” (Parentheses in original)
That undermined the language barrier argument as well.
“What the court knows from public proceedings is that at the sentencing hearing for the murder-for-hire conviction, Bunchan ‘read into the record, in English, a lengthy letter he had drafted, in English,'” Stearns wrote.