SANTA ANA, Calif. — A woman was sentenced Monday in Santa Ana to nearly six years in federal prison for operating a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme through two San Diego-based companies, in which investors were defrauded out of more than $6 million.
Susan Margaret Werth, who pleaded guilty May 2 to wire fraud, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge James V. Selna to pay nearly $6.3 million in restitution to her victims, one of whom lost two-thirds of his savings and had to go back to work at the age of 72.
Another victim, who is 62, had to postpone her retirement when she lost $800,000, according to federal prosecutors.
Werth, 58, of San Diego, ran the scam out of Commercial Exchange Solutions Inc. and Exchange Solutions Company Inc., both based in San Diego, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Werth and her subordinates solicited millions of dollars from investors with claims the money would be used to obtain short-term construction loans from other clients, who would use a method to defer capital gains taxes through a tax break for selling an investment property and using the proceeds to reinvestment in a similar property of equal or greater value, prosecutors said.
The defendant told investors that their investments were “risk-free” and completely guaranteed by her company’s collateral, prosecutors said. Werth created bogus bank accounts that duped investors into thinking there was a balance of $7.2 million and sent them phony emails indicating she was an employee of the bank, prosecutors said.
The investors were promised a rate of return of at least 15%.
“In reality, Werth knew the representations were false and fraudulent because she operated CES and ESC as a Ponzi scheme, in which the vast majority of its incoming revenue was comprised of victim-investor funds, which defendant Werth used to repay prior victim-investors, to pay her personal expenses, to withdraw cash, to repay investors’ principal, and to make fictitious profit payments to some investors,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Werth’s “conduct affected honest citizens who entrusted [her] with significant amounts of money, some, their retirement funds and savings,” the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum stated.
Last December, a default judgment was entered in a Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit against Werth.