A former San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison on Tuesday for using his law enforcement experience to defraud investors out of millions.
Christopher Lloyd Burnell, 51, was also ordered to pay $7. 6 million in restitution by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, who called Burnell “one of the most evil people that I have ever dealt with in the law.”
Burnell, who pleaded guilty in May to 11 counts of wire fraud and two counts of filing a false tax return, left the Sheriff’s Department in 2008, and by 2010, he was “deceiving victims into believing he was a wealthy businessman,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.
Burnell, a Highland resident, manufactured his alleged wealth of tens of millions of dollars by claiming he had won a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department and Kaiser Permanente, that he had sold a patent for a bullet-resistant vest to Oakley Inc. and through investments and money lending.
However, his wealth actually came from his victims, who would invest hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time with him.
“In some instances, Burnell asked the victim for an initial trial investment with him, during which he would fulfill his promised returns – and gain the victim’s trust – only to ask for a larger amount from them,” the release added.
In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said “these investment opportunities did not actually exist.”
“Rather, [Burnell] would spend the money on maintaining a life of luxury for himself and his Hooters calendar model girlfriends, gambling, and private jets,” they added.
Some of Burnell’s more notable purchases and expenses included “losing more than $2 million in gambling at the San Manuel Casino in Highland, $500,000 in private jet trips, $70,000 on Louis Vuitton merchandise, and $175,000 on luxury cars and an apartment lease for his then-girlfriends,” the release said.
Before the scheme ended in September 2017, some victims became concerned that they were being swindled, but Burnell used a variety of excuses, including that his money was tied up in a trust fund and that his funds had been frozen by federal authorities.
Sometimes, he even took loans from his victims for personal expenses, further defrauding his would-be investors.
“To alleviate victims’ concerns, Burnell showed many victims a fabricated Wells Fargo bank statement that said he had more than $150 million in his account that he would use to pay back victims once his funds were no longer tied up. In truth, Burnell had less than $6,500 in that account,” the release said.
When announcing Burnell’s sentence, the DOJ highlighted how the fraud impacted the lives of those who were defrauded.
Some victims became depressed and suicidal, and others lost their family home, business or marriage.
Others could no longer afford to send their children to college or be able to retire.
“Simply put, no words can explain the level of emotional and physical havoc [Burnell] wreaked on [his] victims’ lives,” prosecutors said.
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