70 victims face Heckscher in court

October 30, 2009 6:58:29 PM PDT
It was an emotional day in a federal court room on Friday. Victims of a Ponzi scheme involving tens of millions of dollars confronted the man who bilked it.

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Roberto Heckscher confessed on Friday that he stole somewhere between $20 million and $100 million. The 55-year-old admitted that he had been stealing from his clients, his friends, and his own family for 30 years.

Last June, Heckscher walked with his attorney into the federal courthouse in San Francisco and began telling the FBI how he lied to clients, telling them he was investing their money in loans to small businesses, but instead using it to fuel an ever-expanding Ponzi scheme.

Friday, Heckscher pled guilty before a federal judge and 70 of his victims who came to see him locked up, including Heckscher's sister, Miriam Counts.

"I came to court today because I needed to honor every single one of the victims that my brother has hurt," said Counts.

Counts is a single mother of two special needs children, working three jobs. Her brother stole her inheritance and everything she had saved, half a million dollars.

"And the level of trust that he has taken away from me is horrific," said Counts.

Ralph Geissler lost $2,750,000.

"He would have dinner with us or would ask us out to dinner and there was closeness, smile at you, and steal the money and stab you in the back," said Geissler.

Donna Watkins told Judge Susan Illston how Heckscher knew she was sick and struggling to pay her medical bills.

"He knew and he kept telling me how sorry he was and he would say, 'Oh God, Donna I hope you feel better soon. Keep me updated, let me know how you're doing,'" said Watkins. And then he'd tell her she needed to invest more, $130,000 in all. "I mean, I don't know how he can even look at himself in the mirror. I don't how he could do that to people and get away with it."

Heckscher did get away with it for a long time. Friday, he admitted stealing since 1979. In June, he wrote a letter to clients before attempting suicide. In it he confessed "Gambling came into my life and some early wins made it seem like it might enable me to pay off all my debts and clean my slate." Prosecutors say Heckscher gambled in Nevada casinos and on the commodities market.

"He has destroyed the business, the name, the family name," said Eleanor Irving, a Santa Clara resident.

Irving's father built the Irving Bookkeeping & Taxes business and took in Hecksher as a youngster. The Irving family was heavily invested.

"They've lost everything... in the millions, in the millions," said Irving.

In a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney, Heckscher agreed to a minimum sentence of 12 and a half years and a maximum of life. The sentencing won't be until May, in part because there are 250 victims and Judge Illston wants them all to have an opportunity to have their say. Two houses and a third piece of property will be sold to help repay the victims, but Heckscher's attorney says there isn't much left after $20 million to $100 million in estimated losses.

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