SF man gets 20 years for running Ponzi scheme

May 14, 2010 7:28:40 PM PDT
A San Francisco man who bilked $50 million from victims in a Ponzi scheme will spend 20 years in federal prison. As Roberto Heckscher showed up in court, there were roughly 300 victims there to vent their anger at him.

Last summer, a number of victims stood outside his bookkeeping office stunned to hear that their investments were gone and that Hecksher had admitted gambling with their money to try to make up for loss in the commodities market.

Heckscher, walked into the federal courthouse and surrendered last October. He admitted his crime and spent the last six months in jail waiting for the sentencing.

On Friday, Heckscher choked up in court as he told 75 of his former clients the he was "...truly and sincerely sorry for the pain that I have caused you."

The bookkeeper convinced investors that he could return above market rate interest on personal loans. But prosecutors say he never invested the funds. Instead Heckscher collected money from new victims in order to keep up interest payments to others.

The 55-year-old San Mateo resident told Judge Susan Illston that he never benefited personally from his scheme and he said if the judge would let him out of prison, he would work for the rest of his life to pay off his victims.

A dozen victims told Heckscher he was a thief, a snake, and a cheat.

"What you did was wrong!" shouted Bob Fields. Fields told the court Heckscher stole $1.7 million from him and his family. Fields now said they are broke and that he "Lost money my dad had left me, money my wife's mom and dad had left her, property we'd sold, and can't give any money to my son now."

Heckscher has admitted taking his clients money over the past 30 years.

In a prepared statement, Heckscher told the judge, "Contrary to media insinuations, the bulk of victims' funds were used to cover payments of interest and principal to other victims. Funds were not speculated away on stack trades nor were they gambled away at Las Vegas casinos."

Dan Irving says he knows better.

"A limousine drives up to your house, drives you to the airport, you get on a Lear jet..." said Irving.

Irving says Hecksher was what's known in Las Vegas as a whale -- a big time gambler winning and losing millions. When asked if it worried him to see Hechscher gambling like this, considering Irving had $4 million total, between him and his friends, wrapped up in Heckscher, Irving simply said, "I'm an idiot."

Irving and his sister, Linda Turnbull, had known Hecksher for decades. It was their father, Henry Irving, who founded the Irving Bookkeeping and Taxes business in San Francisco, which was the business Hecksher eventually took over.

"To get up there and say he's sorry is one thing, but to consciously have prayed on these senior citizens whose life's savings were with him, is just the part I just can't get," said Turnbull.

Heckscher's attorney told Judge Illston that Heckscher gambled away approximately $5 million at Nevada casinos. After figuring in interest payments that Heckscher paid to keep his scheme afloat, the government estimates 292 victims lost a total of $33 million.

Last October, Heckscher pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud.

On Friday, Judge Illston sentenced Heckscher to 20 years -- the maximum time allowed.

There were only a handful of victims in the courtroom on Friday that thought that 20 years was enough.


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