When sentencing a former California sheriff's deputy to 14 years in federal prison and ordering him to pay $7.6 million in restitution, US District Judge Michael Fitzgerald put the defendant in context. Christopher Lloyd Burnell, he said, is "one of the most evil people that I have ever dealt with in the law." Prosecutors said Burnell, who was a San Bernardino County Sheriff's deputy until 2008, used his law enforcement knowledge to fool his victims "into believing he was a wealthy businessman," KTLA reports. From 2010 to 2017, they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars at a pop with him.
Burnell told the investors his wealth came from lawsuit victories against the sheriff's department and Kaiser Permanente, a patent for a bullet-resistant vest he sold to Oakley Inc., investments, and money lending. But the money he flashed had come from his victims. In some cases, the Department of Justice wrote, "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." He told investors they'd get their money back, and more, within a few weeks, per the San Bernardino Sun. But the investment opportunities weren't real, prosecutors said. Burnell, 51, spent the money on himself.
His expenditures, prosecutors said, included more than $2 million in gambling losses, $500,000 in private jet trips, $70,000 on Louis Vuitton merchandise, and $175,000 on luxury cars. To reassure investors, Burnell showed them a fake Wells Fargo bank statement showing more than $150 million in his account, when it really held less than $6,500. Victims lost their homes, businesses, or marriage, or the money for their children's college education. Some fell into depression or became suicidal. Burrell wreaked "emotional and physical havoc" on his victims, officials said. In May, he pleaded guilty to two counts of filing a false tax return and 11 counts of wire fraud. (Read more defrauding investors stories.)