SCRANTON, Pa. -- A former Pennsylvania financial adviser who earned millions by pushing high-risk, high-fee investments on unsuspecting retirees was sentenced Friday to more than 17 years in federal prison.
A judge said Anthony Diaz took advantage of dozens of clients, some of whom lost their life savings or were unable to send their children to college as a result of the fraud.
Diaz, who has been living in Florida, was handcuffed in the courtroom and led away to immediately begin serving his sentence.
Addressing the judge, Diaz portrayed himself as the victim of an overzealous, misguided prosecution and an unsophisticated jury made up of “blue-collar workers” who didn’t understand securities.
“I believed in the products I sold,” Diaz said. “I did not create a scheme to intentionally hurt people.”
U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion called Diaz an unrepentant con man who brazenly “lied through his teeth” to the jury, then repeated the lies in his statement to the court Friday.
The federal prosecution was highly unusual in that Diaz did not steal people’s nest eggs. Rather, jurors were told, Diaz had unsuspecting customers sign blank documents, then falsified their net worth, income, investment experience and risk tolerance to make it appear they met the suitability requirements of the products.
The case illustrated how problem brokers can bounce from firm to firm despite racking up consumer complaints and rules infractions. Diaz was affiliated with 11 investment firms in 15 years, getting booted from five of them and resigning from another before Wall Street's regulator finally kicked him out of the securities industry.
Former customers testified that Diaz guaranteed them high returns while failing to explain they could lose their money or that it would be tied up for years.
Testifying in his own defense, Diaz acknowledged paperwork errors but denied criminal intent. He said the investments he sold were vetted and approved by the brokerages he worked with, and insisted he fully explained the risks to his clients.
The 11 clients whom Diaz was charged with defrauding lost as much as $3.5 million, according to court documents, but Mannion said he had received victim impact statements from 30 people.
Diaz's clients “had no real understanding of investments,” Mannion said.
The judge ordered Diaz to pay restitution, though it's unlikely his former clients will see any money. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority had previously ordered Diaz to pay some $4 million in damages to 19 former clients, but the government’s sentencing memo said Diaz had not repaid “a single dime” to his victims.
Bruce Kilby, a retired pharmaceutical company worker who invested about $350,000 with Diaz, won a $220,000 arbitration award against him several years ago but said in court Friday that Diaz once told him, “You will never get a penny."
Another victim, Ana Alicia Plasencia, said in court that Diaz gained control of all the UPS stock that her husband had amassed over 34 years with the company, put the money into alternative investments that her husband did not understand, and lost all of it, making them destitute.
“Where is my money, Mr. Diaz? Where is it? What did you do with it?” said Plasencia, a real estate agent who turns 78 in a few days and said she still has to work to make ends meet.
Plasencia added that her husband, Robert, was deeply depressed before his 2017 death.
“My husband died a broken, very sad man,” she said, sobbing.
This story has been corrected to show that Plasencia's first name is Ana, not Ann.