Fargo man who stole millions in Ponzi scheme sentenced
A Fargo man who stole millions from investors asked for their forgiveness Monday before making himself out to be a victim in a lengthy speech that upset the judge sentencing him.
East Central Judicial District Judge Steven Marquart told Larry Atkins his remarks didn't fool him, saying the insurance agent had not thought about his victims at all.
"You deserve every one of these eight years that you're getting here," Marquart said.
Atkins, 65, was sentenced after pleading guilty to seven felonies for engaging in fraudulent practices, exploiting a vulnerable adult, transacting business as an unregistered agent and selling unregistered securities. Prosecutors dismissed 71 other felony charges.
The case involved more than 30 victims losing more than $3 million, making it one of the worst the state has ever had, said Kelly Mathias, supervisor of investigations with the North Dakota Securities Department.
Mathias said the Ponzi scheme, which involves using new investors to pay earlier investors, became so big it collapsed on itself. Most victims were elderly and invested their life savings with Atkins or refinanced homes they had already paid off.
"Many of the victims have indicated that they would have rather have been assaulted because after the assault at least they would have a home," Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Cherie Clark said.
Several victims attended his sentencing in Cass County District Court, including Gail Tollitson, who invested with him for more than 20 years.
"I do not have any assets left or any retirement," said the Fargo woman, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1982 and uses a wheelchair. Tollitson said the case has made her health worse, saying she will soon have to leave her home and need financial assistance.
"I'm on food stamps," she said.
Atkins said the fraud began 18 years ago when an insurance deal went bad and he was too overwhelmed by "the fear of being found out" to do the right thing. He worked hard to pay his investors back, but could not.
Atkins issued numerous critiques and said he forgives the justice system for allowing his former business partner to receive a lesser sentence in a similar case.
"If I'm able to walk out of prison I will have a small Social Security check, no vehicle, no job and no place to stay," Atkins said. "Many people forget that I worked hard for 40 years."