Petaluma Resident Sentenced to Three and One Half Years in Prison for Role in Wire Fraud Scheme

Defendant defrauded victims of more than $7 million by lying about the existence of a sick heiress in need of medical care

SAN JOSE – Robert Stephens was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Michael T. Batdorf, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.  The sentence was handed down today by the Honorable Lucy H. Koh, U.S. District Judge, after Stephens pleaded guilty to the charges on June 15, 2016.

Stephens, is a 65 year-old resident of Petaluma, California.  According to his guilty plea, since at least 2009 and continuing through December of 2015, he defrauded scores of victims of at least $5.6 million.  Stephens admitted that along with his four co-defendants, Laurence Miles, 76, now living in Arizona, Shirley Molina, 70, of Hawthorne, Calif., Munsif Shirazi, 49, of Bell Canyon, Calif., and Rayan Lakshmanan, 48, of Davis, Calif., he told people that an heiress to a billion-dollar estate was very ill and was in need of medical attention.  Stephens and his co-defendants convinced their victims that the heiress’s money was tied up in a secret probate case and that, in return for money to help pay for the heiress’s medical costs, Stephens and his accomplices would return to their victims $1,000 for every $1 they invested in the heiress’s estate.  Stephens and his accomplices promised their victims that they would see the returns on their investments after the money was released from probate.  In truth, there was no dying heiress with a large estate.  Instead, Stephens and his codefendants used the victims’ money to support their own lifestyles.  On December 3, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Stephens and charged him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349; 22 counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; and 1 count of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957.  Pursuant to his plea agreement, Stephens pleaded guilty to one count of each of the charges and the remaining charges were dismissed.  Each of Stephens’s co-defendants has pleaded guilty to their respective roles in the conspiracy.  Judge Koh sentenced Miles to 108 months in prison and sentenced Lakshmanan to 18 months in prison.  Shirazi and Molina will be sentenced later this year.  

In sentencing Stephens, Judge Koh found that he had been conducting the scheme since 2007.  The Court concluded that Stephens and his co-defendants obtained almost $8 million dollars from the scheme and that Stephens was responsible for recruiting most of the victims. 

In addition to the 42-month prison term, Judge Koh ordered Stephens to serve a three-year period of supervised release, to pay restitution in the amount of $7,901,081, and to pay a forfeiture money judgment of $5,628,765.  Judge Koh ordered Stephens to begin serving his sentence October 20, 2017.  

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amber Rosen and Patrick Delahunty prosecuted the case with the assistance of Nina Williams and Susan Kreider.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and IRS.
 

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